“Feathers and Stars”

The middle of winter, the middle of war. When we were children, every home had plenty of candles, soup-bones, and bread. We burned candles at church, so that our departed ones could look down and see us through space.

Now my wife hangs black canvas over the windows, and white sheets over the furniture that we bought on time. To keep it nice, to make it last. In case the factories must always make bullets instead of chairs.

A ragtag show opens in town, part vaudeville, part menagerie. No one cheers for the haggard clown, or the monkey who plays a wheezing accordion. While the quartet hides in the wagon, the rooster flaps around aimlessly, then perches on the clown’s shoulder and tries to peck his eyes.

End of the line for the traveling act. We read of their dissolution in the next town. The quartet starts a drunken brawl, the clown bets their savings at the track and loses, the monkey steals a purse.

No mention of the rooster. We talk about him at supper. I say he fled to a barn full of lusty hens. My wife says that maybe a father butchered the rooster to give his family a decent meal.

Then we talk about his feathers. My wife says she would wear one in her Sunday hat. I tell her my plan will wait for spring, when the nights are mild. Then she can pluck all his feathers and sew me a replica of Montezuma’s cloak.

When spring comes, we spread a blanket in the backyard and look at the stars. Warm air on our faces, but the ground is cold and damp. I tell her that looking at the stars makes me imagine a sultan’s cache of diamonds, piled to the ceiling in underground rooms. She says they make her think about the distant lights of bombs, half a world away.

Our parents never knew bombs. They ate well, drank plenty, smoked till their breath was gone, died young, and missed the war. In a giant roofless church at the end of space, they feed coins into a slotted box and light the stars to remind us of the life to come.

–originally appeared in West Wind Review

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About William Kelley Woolfitt

William Kelley Woolfitt’s poems and short stories have appeared or are forthcoming in Cincinnati Review, Ninth Letter, Shenandoah, Los Angeles Review, Sycamore Review, Southern Humanities Review, and Hayden’s Ferry Review. Poems from his completed book-length sequence, Words for Flesh: a Spiritual Autobiography of Charles de Foucauld, have been published in Salamander, Rhino, Pilgrimage, and Nimrod.