Leaves scuttling across a concrete floor; swirling
dust motes in sunlit shafts; the dry, chalky smell
of ancient barnboard mingling with sweet crankcase oil
leaking from a battered, barrel-hooded pickup—
now but a shadow flickering five decades
in my mind’s movie house, the big shed
at my great Uncle Joe’s chicken farm is built only
of sensations since I’ve no idea what it looked like.
Mornings we collected eggs in wire baskets, listening
to a racket of clack and cackle resounding like laughter.
Ammonia-tinged manure and straw-scent mixed
with the desiccated, parched soil smell of feed pellets.
A lumbering, broad-chested giant with hands as thick
as falconers’ gloves, Uncle Joe bent beneath low
basement joists as we candled, sorted and nested
the eggs into cartons under a bare bulb.
Searching a decade ago, I found fields
and barns grown to strip malls, subdivisions,
and office buildings filled with doctors and engineers
where even streets and addresses had changed.
Caught in memory’s rusted machinery are two
bearish dogs to chase and wrestle and a three-legged
Chihuahua called Bambi whose claws tapped
on kitchen linoleum as Aunt Esther cooked.
A tired patch of Jersey farmland fulfilled America’s
promise to a man who witnessed his parents’ bloody
murder by pogrom. His thickly accented English spiced
with Yiddish was a blessing oblivious to a boy.
And yet I’m made of this stuff as surely as eye color,
the slope of my nose, the timbre of my voice. I’m pieced
together by an archaeology of recollection, finding
fragments and gluing collages of stories.
Moist, warm, the kitchen noisy with cousins and dogs,
a cow’s tongue boiling beside a soup pot thick with barley
and carrot chunks, Uncle Joe shared his glass of pickle
brine. Sour, bitingly acid, it now seems the taste of love.