Metal wire panels six feet tall, doghouse in the middle
attached to the side of the white board barn with the red metal roof.
Above the doghouse, a door from the hayloft just above the
chickens inside the barn.
A door just big enough to shove a bale of hay or straw or boy through.
Quietly ease out of the small hayloft door feet first
nine feet to the bottom
nine years old, long drop
backwards, hold on with fingers pinched white, cross the point of no return, everything hanging out the door.
Hold my breath and let go
try to land softly
let the wind cover the sound
detach like a feather
sail to the bottom and stop.
Quiet, quiet. Slow, slow. Touch the ground.
Wait and look and so much less
Shallow breathing, crouched low. I am stone. I am invisible. I am not here. One foot then the other, sneaking along the big red dog house. If the dog sees me before I get there, she wins. If the old man sees me from the house, I lose.
The dog is still asleep as I creep up on her. Quietly reach out until my hand touches the dog’s head. Her eyes open from sleep and the thump of her tail sounds inside the house. Her eyes are kind but not bright. Light orange eyebrows on deep orange-red fur. Big smile and pant hello. She scoots over and I get in.
In the straw, hidden from view. Safe and warm. Invisible. Tucked up and disappeared. Cold mud outside the house and dry straw inside. See the world passing from the protection of the cage. Take snacks, share. Don’t talk. Quietly pet the dog. Push the straw up around the entrance to the dog house. Pull my sock hat down low. Look out under the frayed yellow yarn brim through squinted eyes.
Chickens cluck from inside the barn
as I watch with ostrich eyes
neither of us can fly or
climb trees anymore
at least not very high up.
Always found in trees.
“What are you doing up there? We’ve been looking for you.”
“Get the hell out of there and get to work.”
But in here, he can’t find me. Stolen time. No bedroom door to fly open. No hands waving and hitting. No yelling.
No kick in the ribs because someone else had a bad day.
The dog wants me here, scratching her ears. She likes my peanut butter crackers. She doesn’t think I’m stupid or weird.
The back door opens on the house, rubber weather seal sucking apart in the rip of the torn vacuum and I hear him calling from the shadow. Calling like you would for a dog to come.
The door hangs open
the chickens are even quiet
the dog holds her breath
the door shuts.
He’s watching for me
A puff of cold air from the outside pushes in over the straw. The dog stiffens and tries to get up. I hold her down. I hold my breath.
I’ll have to go but I have to wait.
He can’t see me climb out of here.
He’ll know where to look.
He’ll ask questions like,
“What the hell are you doing in the dog house?”
“What the hell’s wrong with you?”
Or he won’t ask anything.
He’ll just stomp out in the mud in big green rubber boots and pull me out into the cold.
in the quiet.
The calm is gone and everything is tense.
I can feel him watching from behind the black glass. And “Where is that damn kid?” and “I’m going to jerk a knot in his tail.”
I push out slowly and watch the door. The dog tries to stand up and go with me but I push her back inside. It isn’t safe for her either. On hands and knees in front of her house, “Stay. Stay. Stay. Stay.”
Up and out quick, flip the latch, out the gate, shut it behind me. Walk fast, look like I’m going somewhere. Get the egg basket and the flashlight.
Go into the dark chicken house
rats the size of footballs
shine my light around and Lidless Eyes stare back
Get the eggs, get the eggs, get the eggs,
kill the light, walk fast, get to the house.
Shut the door loudly like I don’t have a reason not to. Boots off, hat off. Look through the window of the door and the dog stands outside the house and inside the pen and below the hayloft and on the other side of the wall from the chickens, watching. She dances in the mud back and forth and sniffs the air before turning and going back in the dog house.
It is too hot from forced air and burning logs. Footsteps shake the house from the far corner.
“Where the hell have you been?”
Hold up the egg basket
And soon the dog is gone to another home. “You never spent any time with her anyway.”
But the chickens stayed. There were always chickens.