Claudia Emerson Depression Poems


Sometimes the season changed in the telling,
sometimes the state, but it was always during

the Depression, and he was alone in the boxcar,
the train stalled beneath a sky wider

than any he'd seen so far, the fields of grass
wider than the sky. He'd been curious

to see if things were as bad somewhere else
as they were at home. They were - and worse,

he said, places with no trees, no water.
He hadn't eaten all day, all week, his hunger

hard-fixed, doubled, gleaming as the rails. A lone
house broke the sharp horizon, the train dreaming

beneath him, so he climbed down, walked out,
the grass parting at his knees. The windows

were open, curtainless, and the screen door,
unlatched, moved to open, too, when he knocked.

He could see in all the way through to the kitchen -
and he smelled before he saw the lidded

pot on the stove, the steam escaping. Her clothes
moved on the line for all reply, the sheets,

a slip, one dress, washed thin, worn to translucence;
through it he could see what he mistook for fields

of roses until a crow flew in with the wind -
sudden, fleeting seam. By the time he got back to the train,

he'd guessed already what he'd taken - pot
and all - a hen, an old one that had quit

laying, he was sure, or she wouldn't have killed it.
The train began to move then, her house falling

away from him. The story ended with the meat
not quite done, but, believe him, he ate it

all, white and dark, back, breast, legs, and thighs,
strewing the still-warm bones behind him for miles.

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