My grandmothers came over in steerage,
Sleeping next to tepid water barrels,
Where rats circled.
Eastern Europe to the Statue of Liberty.
Seasick for three weeks,
The baby chicks broke from their shells.
I’d take several and let them move silently on thin legs
Over keys on an old piano next to the incubator.
A Japanese “sexer” would finger the chicks,
Separating the valueless males from the females.
He dropped them into a 55-gallon container,
Which would be taken outside.
An uncle would run a car’s exhaust into the pile,
Gassing the males into a yellow heap.
The females were sold to neighboring farmers.
Rats and chicks,
Death, arriving slow and fast ….
Eugene “Gene” Novogrodsky, early December 2013