“Pardoning the Turkey” by Caroline Barnes

Caroline Barnes


Like a priest about to bestow
a blessing, the President raised

his hand over the blue and crimson
head of the snow-white turkey,

flashed his winning smile at the cameras,
and said: By the power vested in me,

as President of the greatest country
on this planet, I hereby grant you

a full pardon from the Thanksgiving
dinner table. The crowd tittered.

The President chuckled, then went on:
First and foremost, I pardon you for

being a turkey. For fanning your tail
feathers to look bigger than you are.

For strutting your stuff to impress
the lady turkeys. For gobbling nonsense

that no one understands. For changing
the colors of your wattle and your snood

to suit your mood. I, the most powerful
man on earth, hereby grant you, turkey,

a new lease on life. After this ceremony
you will ride to beautiful Mount Vernon,

where you will spend your twilight
months living in fame and fortune.

The crowd stood up and applauded.
The man from the turkey federation

beamed. The President and his family
went back inside the White House.

The turkey, whose front half had been
engineered to outweigh his back half,

rocked on the table to keep his balance.
When a soft wind moved the branches

overhead, he looked up at them with dark
almond-shaped eyes, then squatted just

a little—as if his thin legs had the strength
to launch him, as if his disjointed wings

had the power to carry him, as if his flock
was waiting there, in the lowest branches,

for him to arrive.

from Rattle #57, Fall 2017
Tribute to Rust Belt Poets


Caroline Barnes: “I grew up in rural southeastern Wisconsin in the 1950s, a part of the Rust Belt and just a short distance from the Illinois line. All of our neighbors were farmers who worked small plots of land. During the winter they worked in factories and plants. Many struggled to buy clothes and provide food for their children, as even the combination of farm and factory work couldn’t pay the bills. My father, a doctor, bought a hundred acres of farmland that he left fallow and built a large house with a long driveway and expansive lawn on a road where many people’s children had no shoes. He was very proud of the house and the land, but we—his children—were ashamed. At the small rural school we attended we were bullied and ostracized because we didn’t fit in. I feel that experience of being an outsider is very much in my poetry, as well as the landscape of rural Wisconsin in the 1950s and the feeling of loneliness that can come from both inside and outside of a family.”

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