‘… like a slumber party gone crazy under the floor …’ | Notice
By Rick Clark
A story can inspire discussion. It can encourage debate. Agreement. Argument. Clarification. Justification.
And in 1986, just my second year working at The Sentinel, I discovered that reporting can also become poetic …
The Keene Sentinel, June 5, 1986, from United Press International …
26,000 chickens explode
SHERIDAN, Ore. – Some 26,000 dead chickens buried in a 20-foot pit have exploded, scattering 40-foot pieces of poultry, chicken farmer Larry Mohler reported.
The chickens had died of prostration from the heat last Friday and Mohler used a bulldozer to shovel the carcasses into the pit. Twelve hours later, gases produced by the decomposing corpses detonated them.
âWe had a miniature (Mount) St. Helens,â Mohler said Wednesday. âThe dirt that we piled up started to bubble and move. And then it all exploded.
The explosion spread pieces of chicken about 40 feet in length. Friends and neighbors helped Mohler bury the carcasses again.
Allen Hoey was first and foremost a poet.
He was also a meticulous printer, university professor, literary critic, and novelist. He was nominated for the Pulitzer Prize for his 2008 collection of poetry, âCountry Musicâ.
And, since 7th grade, he was my friend.
We met in the 1960s at Myron J. Michael Junior High School in Kingston, New York – what we would now call college. My first impression of him? He was completely unbearable. But aren’t all college kids unbearable?
Allen’s dad was a WWII veteran who worked for years in the Kingston cement factories: 100% muscle, plus a great sense of humor. Her mother was a loyal little housewife of the June Cleaver strain. And Allen was a single child who craved attention, so a friendship quickly developed.
But, alas, just as quickly, his parents suddenly sold their house and moved to the next town, disembarking Allen at another school.
So from grade 8 on our friendship grew into one of long nighttime phone calls, talking for hours about our common 60s science fiction, writing, and music interests.
After high school, the long phone calls turned into long letters, documenting college, work, marriages, parenthood, trials and tribulations and beyond. Although we stayed in touch for many years to come, we rarely met in person: his first marriage (I believe he was married four times – one of them that I had never even heard of, or, as Wikipedia might note, “Verification required”), a few quick visits, a poetry reading, a rushed lunch.
He never mentioned his Pulitzer Prize nomination. Google told me.
And for months, I was oblivious to his unexpected passing in 2010. We just didn’t share any mutual friends, and it was not uncommon to pass a spell without hearing from him.
Google told me that too.
What does all of this have to do with tens of thousands of dead poultry? In 1986, I sent Allen a letter and included the hilarious newspaper clipping of The Sentinel’s Explosive Chicken. And a few weeks later, I received in return, with the attached clipping on the cover page, a one-page poem.
To my knowledge, only me and maybe a few close friends decades ago have read these sacred and unpublished stanzas – until now:
Larry Mohler eruption
The most fucked up thing – last Thursday week
I’m at Larry’s to check
his Massey-Ferguson which was
to turn against something fierce at the slightest
upgrade – carburetion is poor,
he figures, and he wants me to have
a looksee, and this is the first
I saw him from his wife
beat town with this young waiter –
when damned if the ground next to his barn
don’t start bubbling like a miniature
Mount Saint Helens will explode,
and then it is, except – and a damn
good thing with me wandered inside
a meter to look at, I would have been
I got fried – it’s not lava
blast but pieces of sticky shit
and, yeah – I swear to god if you
will curse me for a liar – feathers
like a sleepover party
furious under the ground, and – Christ,
the stench! I’m about to ask
when, âGod damn it! The chickens,”
Said Larry then stares at me sideways
and propose how the day before
the mercury went beyond a hundred,
half of its stock – 26,000
chickens – fallen in two hours flat
And he just dozed them off in that hole
he dug next to the barn before
they stank the whole place. Then he
turn a full three to sixty to investigate
the half acre strewn with down
and uncooked chicken salad, and we
like something left from Halloween.
“A little lime,” I ventured then –
as if this miracle of death
could visit the same man twice
in his life, and he should keep in mind
the remedies that I would keep this week
to myself – “prevent what you think
you buried the swelling deep
and make such a Christian stench.
May you rest eternally in peace, Allen Stephen Hoey.