“Chicken Train,” a poem by Terry Minchow-Proffitt.

“This face reflected back is not me…”
Image by Wikimedia Commons.

Chicken Train

Helena, I cross your bridge

where you wait, but not a soul

welcomes my return

to feel again the sting of your loss.


You know best how I waver

and amble in your heat, slow up

in your streets, a stranger

peeking through cupped hands

into empty storefronts, foraging

the vacant lots for what’s in the veins.


Here it’s early morning, forty years ago.

I’m looking up to my cousin Dennis,

who’s come in early to open

Uncle Jake’s store and start the coffee,

when the whole place buckles

into glass, plaster and bricks. Nothing but

grass now, where the dust settled to rubble,

where I pause to study my shoes.


chicken train take your chickens away


This face reflected back

from the ticket booth

window of the Malco Cinema

on Cherry Street is not me.

There’s not enough

hair, the face could smile

more, could slip

into sweat and song, funk

it up with mouth bow and harp,


chicken train
runnin’ all day
chicken train
runnin’ all day


to name what the naked eye can’t see —

Momma’s an Avon Lady all made up

to deliver Wild Country in collectible decanters,

Daddy’s at Dominick’s with Ernest,

bent over a chili cheeseburger —

young and making it,

enough history

here to be haunted

by a mop hung out to dry

on a backyard clothesline.


laser beam in my dream

. . . like a sawed-off dream


Scatter-shot in the gut, trying

to name names and place faces —

nowhere to be found

the streetlight that spring night where

at thirteen I came this close

to kissing Belinda Crawford,

the Rex Motel Café where

I fed the pinball machine

my lunch money while

waiting on the school bus.


can’t get on
can’t get off


Helena, who knew

the ’70s would be your heyday?

Even then, you bored me inside

to Hai Karate cologne and Kung Fu,

air-conditioned, highball games of Risk.


chicken train take your chickens away


I had not yet

heard your song.


Not even the tangled sway

and squander of your kudzu

cascade could stop the erosion

of Crowley’s Ridge, its locomotive

sprawl harangues the singular crease

you ride into the Mississippi, sets

me to supposing: these draped

trees and cliffs . . . a wedding

party, a feast of vows,

. . . or maybe pretty ponies?


can’t get on

can’t get off


Where your bluffs take me in,

here where there I go again,

into all that climbs, coils,

and ravages the untended.

Tendrils rise a foot a day

to baptize Confederate gravestones,

dogwoods, the red-rusted plow,

all borne home verdant

by spine greening out into the blues.


Helena, how far to come to here?

Back to flounce and peck

along your levee. The moon low

over the wide river

spells the one place:

I know exactly where I am,

now walking deserted rails,

now on Cherry again, cradled

where dreams bud and beam

me back buck-buck-buckAWKing —

a prodigal chicken

in your arms tonight.


This is the title poem from Terry Minchow-Proffitt’s collected works, Chicken Train: Poems from the Arkansas Delta (Middle Island Press). Individual works have appeared or are forthcoming in such magazines and journals as Arkansas Review, Big Muddy, Christian Century, Oxford American, and Prick of the Spindle.


The author and editors wish to thank the Ozark Mountain Daredevils for their gracious permission to quote from the song “Chicken Train.”