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Poem

Claudia Emerson

Great Depression Story

Great Depression Story

Great Depression Story

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.
Close

Great Depression Story

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.

Great Depression Story

Sponsors
Gemeente Rotterdam
Nederlands Letterenfonds
Stichting Van Beuningen Peterich-fonds
Ludo Pieters Gastschrijver Fonds
Hendrik Muller fonds
Lira fonds
J.E. Jurriaanse
Literature Translation Institute of Korea
Partners
LantarenVenster – Verhalenhuis Belvédère