Susan Snively, class of 1967, is the author of four books of poetry: From This Distance (Alice James, 1981), Voices in the House (University of Alabama Poetry Series, 1988), The Undertow (University of Central Florida Contemporary Poetry Series, 1998), and Skeptic Traveler (David Robert Books, 2005.) She has also published essays in The Southern Review, The Tampa Review, The Florida Review, The Berkshire Review, Verse, and elsewhere.

Snively, who grew up in Louisville, Kentucky, has published poems most recently in Prairie Schooner, The Southern Humanities Review, The Spoon River Review, The Florida Review, The Vocabula Review, and The Antioch Review. She has also published essays in The Southern Review, StorySouth, The Florida Review, and The Tampa Review. She has taught at Smith College, Mount Holyoke College, and at Amherst College, and has received fellowships from the NEA and the Massachusetts Artists Foundation. She is Director of the Writing Center at Amherst College in Amherst, Massachusetts, and is married to historian Peter Czap.


  Susan Snively '67


Roast Chicken

I'd like to make a roast chicken again
for my first husband. It was the first thing
I ever learned to cook. Julia said
you couldn't be a cook unless you learned
to turn out a chicken, golden-amber, moist,
basted with butter every fifteen minutes.
I'd hover over it, tender and maternal,
listening for the rain of little splutters
announcing the final crisping of the skin.
My roast chicken was as close as we came
to being parents, grateful for the bird's
perfect health, its willingness to accept
compliments, to give broth from its bones.
Whatever was wrong became a bit less wrong
when the trouble I took became a ceremony.
A roast chicken was our child, our church.

And poor old R., my demon lover, now dead,
would have lived a longer, healthier life
if he'd been willing to eat my food with gusto
and not submit to the martyrdom of his ulcers.
I couldn't have fixed his craziness or violence
by filling his plate with pale rosy breast meat,
but maybe—if a meal can offer a home
for wayward senses weary of self-harassment—
he could have seen his cursed life as a blessing,
as a stove is more a campfire than the grill
on which St. Lawrence reached his hard perfection.

As for my former stepchildren and their father,
well, I would cook a chicken even for them,
if only to retrieve the far-flung moments
of beatitude around the dinner table.
It's hard to dislike those for whom you cook,
whose teeth chew the food you bought and fixed,
whatever else their mouths may do or say
after the dishes are cleared and the evening stretches
its tired limbs beside the mercurial firelight.

The hardest thing about my parents' deaths
is that I'll never cook for them again,
never make up for years of picky refusals,
indifference, or ignorance of what
it took to put a dinner on the table.
But it isn't expiation or regret
for sin I'm feeling, rather something simpler,
like looking every morning for the sun,
knowing it is there but utterly hidden,
and likely to stay that way for a long time.

I bend over the body, brush in hand,
and smell the tarragon and lemon peel
crisping in the cavity. Never mind
that it is female, splayed upon its back,
legs tied up, submissive, robbed of its guts,
headless, its inner thoughts unimaginable.
So what if it's me in another form, so what
if its skin has turned the color of my hair
and parts of me are made from what it was?
This is as close to happiness as I come.
The heated blood is blossoming in my face.


from The Undertow
University Press of Florida, 1998