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Portrait of Mourning in the Coop, a poem by Liz Whiteacre

Portrait of Mourning in the Coop

The hens coo softly,

low in their throats

like your quiet sobs

in the dormitory when

you first learned your 

grandfather died.

They know too: death

is quick on sunny days

whether foraging worms

or reading in lawn chairs.

Three hawks who’d 

been stalking the flock 

patiently for weeks—

an untended moment,

all our guards down.

Imagine their alarm,

duck and cover, sisters

racing under pines,

into their shed, through

low arbor vitae and

talons quietly tearing

chests, wings, throats

—downy underfeathers

floating in chill air.

It is silent when we

head to collect eggs

that were not laid, see

white, black, brown

feathers littering the yard,

carcasses discarded

unceremoniously. It is

silent like the dark ride

to the airport for your

solo flight to his memorial.

Silence until the two hens 

coo in the coop, comforting

each other in a corner,

a dirge for their sisters.

They know too: death

is quick to leave silence,

proprioception wheeling,

readjusting to absence—

sadness low in the throat

slow to escape.

Liz Whiteacre teaches creative writing and advises Etchings Press at the University of Indianapolis. Whiteacre is the author of Hit the Ground, and her poetry has appeared in Disability Studies Quarterly, Wordgathering, Kaleidoscope, and other literary magazines.