Candling the Eggs

by Phyllis Mannan

We arrive for afternoon tea
and smell chicken and cabbage
simmering. Aunt Hannah says,
Have a cookie … wear my blue
apron to gather the eggs
so the chickens will know you.

On the screened porch she scrubs
an egg with a gray rag
over a newspaper on the floor
in a language she can’t read. Above
her head, a fly strip dangles.

Fah-tee! she calls, placing
the clean egg in the wire basket
on the table, pinning back
the tail of a braid, smoothing
the broad skirt of her house dress.

She asks Uncle Arthur
to pick up the new chicks
at the post office. Could one
of the children ride along?
My sister wants to hear peeping
inside the big boxes.

Each Christmas Eve we walk down
our gravel road to gather up
this couple who’ve adopted us
as we’ve adopted them–why don’t
they have children of their own?
We sing “Silent Night”
in English, then in German,
all the way home.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

img_1175Come and candle eggs,
Aunt Hannah says. The candling
room off the porch is cool
and dark as the the root cellar.
Cookie tins keep company
with crates of eggs. She holds
an egg against the light.

What are you looking for?
my brother Tim wants to know.

A spot. It means the egg’s not
she says.

He frowns. What kind
of spot? If it had
one, would we throw it out?

She doesn’t answer.

I hold an egg up
to the light. Seeing no spot,
I place it in the row
of tiny heads
inside the crate.

Chicken farmers examine eggs for freshness and fertility by placing each egg in front of a bright light.