- Chicken Bristle
There's a place near here called Chicken Bristle.It's not a very hopeful name,but it's out in the country and quiet. A handfulof houses are clustered along a lane.The land is rolling and secret and dark.My grandmother lived there when she was a girl,but then it was known as Turnersville—if you were white. If you were black,you lived in Chicken Bristle, Kentucky.I've seen a map that says the placeis Turnersville, but then a pairof parentheses has Chicken Bristlebetween the crescent moon-like curves.The curves are like unspoken verses,and Chicken Bristle is more than a name.I don't think anyone, black or white,prospered there. It was just a placeto live and long and love your people.It wasn't a place for prospering,and, anyway, enriching yourselfwith simple riches isn't reallyprosperity. It's better to knowthe land around you is rolling and dark,pastoral and lulling, and hard.You set your mind and body to workand hope the work will reach your heart,to see, in that repose, some beauty,some meaning for a human life.And there you have it, America,your history in brief. I thinkyou need to live and long, and love [End Page 28] your people. I'm writing this poem whilemy daughter sleeps in quiet peace,only the sound of my pen scratchingits marks on the page, her whistling breath.It's late in the night. One of these daysI'm going to take her to Chicken Bristleand hold her up to the air and the wildand say to her, part of you, my love,comes from Chicken Bristle, this darkand lulling place, sprung up likea thistle-patch among the hills.But isn't it beautiful? Isn'tthere sweetness in the very air? [End Page 29]
Maurice Manning's most recent poetry collections are One Man's Dark and The Gone and the Going Away. A former Guggenheim fellow, Manning has been a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize and is a member of The Fellowship of Southern Writers. He teaches at Transylvania University and in the MFA Program for Writers at Warren Wilson College.