All the Gentle Boys Grow Spurs

by Erin Slaughter

Some things are more purposeful
than a knife, but not many. She spoke
of the childhood rooster, Elsie May’s,
who chased her through the yard
I have only known as a slab of knotted
wildflower where a rotting house grows
into its own dirt. That mass of feather and anger
ended pot-pied, or bone-roasted in soup, depending
on the day she tells the story. I meant
for the speckled, white-beaked chicken
I barn-bought and brought her
to be a hen. But we never mean
for things to happen.
Her babies, her chickens,
her friends—my mother greets them all
with the same wide, dumbstruck love.
Boots to mud. Suffering turns people
fierce with compassion. Her house-
chicken, she called him, Dobby
warmed her lap on the porch swing
or recliner, watching the local TV news
of nothing good. Until he grew
spurs on his dinosaur claws, bellowed stomped
burst forth and pecked anyone
who reached to touch
him and my mother
sobbed each day at first; her sweet friend
gone aimlessly caustic. And fear
opens the body the way of a fist
through teeth. The chicken wire
one morning blown open, mouth
of strewn feathers and jagged space. Probably coyotes
in the coop, but his tenderling body
was never found, and we who know
the way of once-gentle boys think maybe
he ripped a hole in leaving and just left.

Erin Slaughter is editor and co-founder of literary journal The Hunger, and author of I Will Tell This Story to the Sun Until You Remember That You Are the Sun (New Rivers Press, 2019). Her writing has appeared or is forthcoming in The Rumpus, Prairie Schooner, Split Lip, New South, and elsewhere. Originally from north Texas, she is pursuing a PhD in Creative Writing at Florida State University. You can find her online at