8 chickens in a papier mache human: a bedtime story

Laura Villareal

from 45.1



for Alfredo Aguilar

imagine if it was steam powered,
the brass endoskeleton heaving.

angled movements, rigid. 16 taloned feet
pulling levers in tight precision.

roiling clouds & feathers
peaking through uneven paper layers,

steam warping the paper inside out. imagine
the papier mâché human lays awake at night,

white light of a billion stars rushing
through the window blinds. each chicken nested

in a secret bunker below the floorboards,
softly cawing in their feathered sleep.

the papier mâché human continues smiling,
never blinking in the moonlight of absence.

perhaps thinking

about the human family sleeping in the other wall boxes.
wondering if they dream about being made

into paper cranes like he would if he could dream.
curious why a big box full of smaller boxes

is called a “house” & if longing can be solved
by folding it small enough to fit in a pocket.

outside the coyotes sharpen their knives
on each other’s whetstone teeth.

like all good squatters, they write fieldnotes
& watch until the day they massacre a lineage.

imagine the smallest human in the family
wrestling tumbleweeds in the dust every day

while the chickens inside of the papier mâché human
eat corn nuts in the shed, building a rocket

to take them away from earth. they’ve learned
to make fuel from grinding their eggshells.

every sacrifice is a promise for better.
the papier mâché human knows

these plans don’t include him.
he knows the chickens will leave

his body in a fleshy heap or perhaps ripped
into confetti to celebrate their success.

his brass endoskeleton will be used for parts or discarded
in the desert with all the other skeletons.

a gathering of tumbleweeds is called a departure
but sometimes the smallest human thinks it’s called a wish.

someday the small one knows the coyotes will come
with knives in their mouths & steal his good avocado

growing land for themselves. not even the tumbleweeds
will protect him. he worries about future feudalism.

he worries he’ll grow up to be like his Pop
or a vanishing point on every skyline.

he worries more about this than the coyotes
& begins humming a song. he once heard

the body’s acoustics
can convince all good things to stay,

can make time spin around
in the same moment for eternity.

but it isn’t true. the smallest human hums
& the rumbling of the chickens’ rocket muffles

his vibrations. the coyotes use this opportunity
to attack but can’t stop coughing when they smell burnt eggshells.

the departure of tumbleweeds gets blown away
by the rocket’s thrusters & the papier mâché human

flies for the first time, imagining himself a paper crane,
into a nearby loquat tree. Still smiling, his arm sways as if waving.

imagine the small human wasn’t mistaken—
that a departure is actually a wish.

Laura Villareal is from a small town in Texas with more cows than people. She earned her MFA from Rutgers University-Newark. She is a recipient of the 2018 Key West Literary Seminar Teacher and Librarian Scholarship and The Highlights Foundation’s 2018 Laurie Halse Anderson Scholarship. Her chapbook manuscript The Cartography of Sleep was a finalist in Black Lawrence Press’ 2017 Black River Chapbook Competition and is a winner of Nostrovia! Press’ 2108 Chapbook Competition. She was selected as the winner of L’Èphémére Review’s 2018 New and Emerging Writer contest.

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