Farmer Joe says this to the empty air. Eggshells everywhere and the concrete floor of the barn slick with goo that has oozed out of the broken shells. Chickens scattered around, most dead, others on their way. A tortured cluck and then another, slow and slower like an old-fashioned watch running out.
This could be anything, Farmer Joe thinks. He stands in the doorframe like a useless scarecrow. Maybe bird murder by the kids from down the way. Maybe raccoons. He thinks back to last Halloween and the broken pumpkins on the front doorstep. The chunks of ribs and the orange pulp that never quite washed off. Would have all seemed like an innocent prank if it hadn’t been the same day his Sarah died.
Nearly 5 p.m., sun lower now in the late autumn sky and chill coming up. How did he miss the commotion, bird squawk and fence rattle? Problem of working the farm all alone. You just can’t blame yourself, he thinks. Same thing he told Sarah the night she lost the baby. Him, touching her moistened forehead as she cried and cried, said they shoulda called Doc Taylor, that the midwife was just a slip of a thing.
Six months later, Sarah gone, too. Broken heart, it was.
So now, he is looking at Halloween. First whole year since Sarah’s gone, and here are these dead chickens, broken eggs. All filling up the air like burning leaves. Farmer Joe squaring himself, he picks up the broom and starts sweeping the shells. Then, he shovels the chickens into a pile, and hoses down the floor. The last of the day’s sun comes in the door behind him. Like angel light, like Sarah tapping on his shoulder. Makes him think how memory is an egg. How you can hold it and heft it in your palm. He kneels on the floor. Picks up a tousle of rags and starts to scrub the stain that, if he lets it, will soak itself in.
poetry and fiction have appeared in Smokelong Quarterly, Wigleaf, Mid-American Review, and Passages North, among many others, and in the anthology New Micro (W. W. Norton, 2018). Her latest books include a full-length collection of flash fiction, Dressed All Wrong for This (Blue Light Press, 2019); a flash novella, The Way of the Wind (Ad Hoc Fiction, 2020); and a full-length collection of poetry, The Theory of Flesh (Kelsay Books). Her photographs have been published in South Florida Poetry Journal, Anti-Heroin Chic, Sourland Mountain Review, and other journals. She lives in New York City, where her poem-play, Love is a Bad Neighborhood, ran for a week in December 2018.
Unknown, Absurd, Sincere, a review by Corey Miller
of Dressed All Wrong for This in Atticus Review (10 February 2020)
Francine Witte in conversation with poet and fiction writer
Arya F. Jenkins, in The Poetry Cafe (26 January 2020)
⚡ 2.2: Francine Witte: poetry, photography, and flash fiction,
nine works and an interview of 17 questions, in diaphanous micro
(13 June 2018)