Joshua Kulseth

Martha and Tooter

Wedged between a pair of stairway pillars
in the backyard of our house,
a few yards from the beehives and a high fence,
in the middle of an untended garden,
my mother built a chicken coop
where two hens clucked pettily over corn,
produced few eggs, and painted the coop white.

She named them Martha and Tooter
after her mother and aunt,
and they bickered like old ladies
but lived comfortably
between the stairway pillars
a few yards from the dangerous bees,
lost in a tangle of garden brambles.

An inside joke, my mother never
called them chickens, only 
Martha and Tooter, and the longer 
both pairs lived the more alike they became,
clucking and scraping at corn or gossip—
which led to confusion one afternoon
when through a message I learned

how Martha and Tooter were eaten by coyotes,
who leapt one night over the high fence,
past hordes of swarming bees 
in a mesh of garden weeds
under stairs and two concrete pillars,
and burrowed under chicken wire to enjoy
two old birds sleeping unruffled in their beds.

In the past Joshua Kulseth has served as the editor for Clemson University’s literary magazine The Chronicle as well as the president of Clemson’s English Majors Organization. He placed as a semi-finalist in the Norman Mailer Collegiate Poetry Competition, and a finalist in the Cargoes Poetry Competition. Joshua graduated with a Masters in Fine Arts in poetry from Hunter College, and is currently a PhD candidate in poetry at Texas Tech University.