We are skinning chicken in my mother’s kitchen,
sticky wet in July. We’ll make soup from this,
she says, wishing for rain. The blade flashes
along the pale slick of breast, rends
the first fat in a stream of blood down my arm.
That will be a scar, she says, like mine, the one
I got from the kerosene lantern on the mining hat,
reading when candles were dear and electric was out.

Skin slips through my fingers. I tell her
I remember things: a feather ticked bed, her warmth
around me in winter under the tar paper roof
in the shingled shack. She says she can’t remember
but then she remembers her father, packing
his lunch bucket,water bottle on the bottom, fresh
slaughtered smoked sausage sandwiched
in  warm baked bread at the top. She remembers
primping for a Jennerstown boy, rubbing
the smell of smoke and onion away with salt
when there wasn’t enough milk for the babies. She says
Papa rode the buggy on the rail down to the hole. He bit
the life out of land in Windber’s #40, fed pig gristle
to rats who ran warnings when oxygen thinned
before sirens called a cave-in.

Skinny sinews slide through baubles of grease. I cut
my slippery hand again, ask her about the lantern light,
but she tells me about candles, taller than she was
at twelve, circling her young mother’s coffin
and the Christmas tree planted in sawdust.
Rubbing her scar, there was almost a fire, she says,
when mama’s first lover staggered in wailing.
Wincing back tears, she scoops the last glob
into a baggie. When it cools off, she says,
during a nice rain, like my mother and I did,
we’ll make soup from all this fat.

©Andrena Zawinski, 2010

Andrena Zawinski is a fellow of the W. PA Writing Project at the University of Pittsburgh where she led poetry writing workshops in the Young Writers Institutes, Teachers’ Institutes, and Mid-Atlantic Arts Council. Her poetry has been published widely in print and online. She teaches writing at Laney College in Oakland, CA. Her latest full collecition, Something About, will be released this fall through Blue Light Press in San Francisco. Zawinski is also Features editor at PoetryMagazine.com

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3 Responses to “We Remember Skinning Chicken by Andrena Zawinski”

  1. Ruby Bernstein Says:

    We should get together for some Chicken soup! I will make you some of my mother’s chicken. Thanks for all of your encouragement.
    Your poem is developed with amazing detail.

  2. Barbara Joan Tiger Bass Says:

    What a lovely piece, Andrena. I could feel the fatty skin being peeled as well as the deep connection between the mother and daughter. And I can smell the soup cooking in my mind!!! Thanks.

  3. Amazing Alex Says:

    Best knife fight scene ever. Though the knife fight from the movie “The Man From Nowhere” is very close.

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