Day took fire at her bidding,
the stove down to coals, almost cold,
bacon drippings in the coffee can
white as ice. She would prod embers
until flames bit at her fingers,
glut the open mouth with fat wood
and slam down the iron lid
as if she were rousing some monster.
Then she scrambled an egg for me.
But all this had happened forever
when one morning I dawdled in
as she dredged ashes, crisscrossed kindling.
The stove is out. She lights a match.
I sit at the table and wait.
Morning light flutters and stills
on the chipped enamel of the white sink.
In it, spraddled headlong (but headless!),
a large plucked chicken
in all its galled gooseflesh,
a single bloody feather stuck to the faucet.
I startle as the stove lid clangs into place.
With a flourish she reveals an immaculate
brown egg in her powerful hand
and pauses. Long enough to make sure
the break will be clean and even,
the yolk full, and heavy,
the rest as clear as water—
then cracks the world apart.
James Malone Smith is co-editor of Southern Poetry Review and editor of the anthology Don’t Leave Hungry: Fifty Years of Southern Poetry Review (University of Arkansas Press, 2009). His poems have appeared in AGNI Online, Atlanta Review, Connecticut Review, Nebraska Review, Poet Lore, Prairie Schooner, Quarterly West, Shenandoah, Tar River Poetry, and elsewhere. His fiction has been published in American Short Fiction. Professor of English at Armstrong Atlantic State University in Savannah, Georgia, Smith teaches creative writing and American literature. (updated 8/2012)