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  • I now declare myself captain of the team of success—no immaculate conception necessary. But yes, I constructed myself out of ambitions and thoughts that could carry me across seas and down rivers to meet a new destiny at any new turn. I can choose a new name when I arrive, or I can stay the same first name every time without a last name to cover it. Just … just … Justin. Easy. I call myself Justin when I arrive, believing on the heels of my grandmother's Mister, who she used to make go out at the crack of dawn and chase a chicken and chop its head before he could have any breakfast, biscuits, or orange juice. It was that old determined motherfucker who used to sit bolt upright on the steps in the backyard waiting for a chicken to get close enough. Then, in a slow crawl followed by a broad leap, the old man would land on top of the bird and wrap both arms around it. He would stay on the ground for a moment and lie still to make sure the bird was secured. Once he felt safe enough, he would pull himself up slowly on his knees. Then he got up on one knee and then the other one as he stood on his feet. He walked over to the chopping block, grabbed the small axe set against it, and hurled the blade into the bird's neck. Chickenhead separated from the whole, the legs, thighs, breast, and wings flapped, dangled, jerked uncontrollably. Grandmother's Mister plucked feathers continuously until the chicken was nearly plucked whole. He then slammed it onto the ground, which caused both his and the bird's movements to become numb for several minutes. Mister then, standing over the chicken corpse, took a deep breath and grunted in more frustrated hunger than exhaustion (yet that too).

    Grandmother threatened to beat my ass if I did not sit down and eat right around the time that her Mister had finally got up off the dirt to carry the chick to the chopping block. I sat on the chair that saw straight through the screen door so I could see the whole act take place. Eventually, my plate of pig bacon, jelly biscuits, and grits dissolved and my stomach began to bubble. Grandmother sat and ate from her plate as her Mister stood in the doorway with dirt covering his coveralls. He caught his breath and then lost it when he looked at us at the kitchen table and noticed Miss Fannie sitting where he usually sits, eating where he usually eats. Miss Fannie's plate was empty as she read the newspaper that he usually reads, unless Miss Fannie is there first.

    "Ain't no mo'?"

    "You can see," Grandmother said. "Eat what you kill."

    "When you cooking it?"

    "When we get through eating."

    I rise from the table and walk straight out the kitchen, through the den, the front porch, and out of the house. Grandmother's Mister takes my seat as I leave and as Grandmother immediately gets up and walks out the backdoor to see if the chicken corpse was completely dead in the hot, iron tub of water. Miss Fannie folds the newspaper and rolls it up as she follows Grandmother in the backyard. They pull up two wooden chairs beside the iron tub, cross their legs, and sit there watching the chicken. I walk past as I circle the house and walk back to the front yard and off the beaten path.

    Motherfucking trek around the landfill and across the ditch onto the old Union Pacific railroad tracks lead me to the lake, where I sit down and attempt to skip rocks. Success is founded on the perfection of simple things that only few people still do before progressing to the next step. Skipping rocks is a national pastime amongst homeboys. Skipping rocks while sitting takes particular craft. I find a handful of flat ones, sit on the edge of the lake, and focus before I throw. I lean my body slightly to the right, pull my arm back like it is a lacrosse stick, and I throw. The rock hits the water and skips twice the first time, but I achieve four skips per rock by the sixth throw. After I ran out of rocks, two gun dogs appear from a distance and walk over to sniff my hands and my legs before I could get up and look for more flat ones. I sit there still and let them sniff. It is an overcast afternoon by now, and I am not too hot to set my hands on the ground so I can lean slightly and tilt my head just enough to relax without actually lying down.

    I close my eyes and immediately feel saliva and teeth lock into my left hand. I rise slightly and fall immediately as the dog keeps ahold of my hand and growls at me as if I have taken my hand from her. I look at the other canine, which is a little less thirsty and more intimidated by my screams. As his partner continues this act, he runs several yards away and tucks his tail. My eyes focus on one attack, which forces me to smack the dog across the head continuously. She keeps coming back, however, forcing me to smack it harder until I pull hand away, but not without her teeth sinking a scrape into it. Upon freedom, I run at the dog and kick at it. It moves too quickly and I fall to the ground. I dangle my hand to try to eliminate the pain, which would not have subsided as easily had it not been for the thought to stick it in the lake water. The mud was cool and soothed the pain for the moment, thus revealing a new remedy: sediment.

    Now, I have the earth in my skin, thanks to my wound. I hop back on the tracks and find my way back to Grandmother and Miss Fannie in the backyard, sitting in the same place, complemented by a johnny named Mista Amos and his bottle of homemade wine. He skins and grins while Miss Fannie nods off to sleep and Grandmother skins and grins too. The chicken lays in the tub of water, thoroughly plucked. I grab it out of the tub with my wounded hand and grimace as the water re-aggravates my wound. I go inside, fill Grandmother's iron skillet with oil, cut the chicken into its parts, and prepare it for its true purpose.

    I whisk a bowl of flour, pepper, cayenne, and garlic powder and toss the limbs in. I shake the bowl and turn the parts until they are covered in flour and spices. I cook the pieces two at a time: two legs, two breasts, two thighs, two wings. I remove each pair with a small dinner fork and place them onto a large plate in the middle of the kitchen table. I remove the two wings from the skillet at the same time, as the scar begins to bleed. Cooking chicken at such a pace guarantees chicken grease to pop your skin. Nonetheless, I complete the task, shut off the oven, and place the pieces on the plate. I use my hand dripping with blood to push the plate from the middle of the table to the edge where I ate breakfast this morning. Grandmother's Mister takes a leg, bites into it, and burns his tongue and the roof of his mouth.

    "Eat."

    "Good," he says.

    He ate two legs and a breast, while I sat in Miss Fannie's chair and ate two wings, two thighs, and a breast. I got up once for light bread, but did not leave the kitchen. I focused on my plate until only bones remained. Suddenly, I slump in the chair and nod off to sleep as my head gradually leans back and I spend the dark, quiet night there, patting my stomach and bleeding.
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