Giving Thanks, A Few Years Later

Nov 25, 2013

The sliding barn door slams against the far wall
winter light pours in like water through floodgates
dust floats in trapped sun

I reach up and grab the feet
of one more stunned and screaming
blue-green-brown Naragansett turkey
roosting in the rafters

Quick, he's upside down, wings spread out
heavy body bouncing
against the right hip of my spattered coveralls

100 turkeys, 8 friends, 3 days before Thanksgiving

So many conversations with my buddy about this place
his place
rented but for sale
a low slung cabin, a handful of shack-like structures
and 80 acres of good ground
in the soft belly, of the great sweep, of this valley
spread wide
from the shark-toothed Mission mountains
soaring platinum against a winter grey sky
to the glacial green Flathead river
curved like a snake sunning itself along burlap hills to the west

Maybe with partners they could pull it off
If interest rates drop
If he works in town a few days a week, sleeps in his office
There's an old friend with some cash could help
just wants a place to put up a cabin
But the owner needs to know - she bought a bigger piece
up the road
He sees playing children
modern tractors, buildings shorn-up plumb, straight, painted
His girlfriend
not yet 27
speaks of her family
so far away

I stuff the shining upside down tom into a cone
screwed to a wide plank of fencing
in a line of three bird-filled cones
Their heads poke out
skinny necks straining to squack

I pull across and down with a long blade, thin as a straw

Blood runs in rivulets over the broad board onto frozen mud

Turkeys bounce along through this process, through the day
from barn to killing cone to plucker to gutting table
to a shiny stock tank
where bagged turkeys bob with chunks of ice
in glacial melt water

the turkeys look just like turkey
but not at all like birds

We stop work only for a full-on farm lunch
in the hissing wood stove cabin
The whole year on a table
venison chili, roasted winter squash, pickled vegies
spicy and sour
pumpkin pie, soda bread, scalding hot black coffee

Looking back
my buddy, the turkeys in the barn, the group working
wordlessly together
all knew
who buys big spreads which animals survive us

and when a shining time
in all its gutty, futile glory
and goes

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HomeFarm, poems by Josh Slotnick

Josh Slotnick lives and farms with his family in Missoula, Montana. He also works on the University of Montana's Environmental Studies program's/Garden City Harvest PEAS farm. "Giving Thanks, A Few Years Later" was published in his 2013 collection HomeFarm.