My parents drove to Tulsa to buy a used jeep from a farmer who had posted the ad on Craigslist. They came back to Wichita six hours later with ten crates of corn-fed chickens crammed onto their truck bed.

Apparently halfway through the drive my mom had convinced my dad that they didn’t need another car, but since they were almost to Tulsa they didn’t want the trip to go to waste, and so they bought eighty chickens from that same Craigslist farmer. How on earth such a purchase made any sense to them I didn’t know. But here the chickens were, imprisoned in our backyard. It pained me to look at them. They squawked and struggled against each other, pressing their feathery flesh into the stiff wooden bars as if trying to break free from us, their captors.

For a while I had the hope that we were going to raise them and start our own chicken farm. My parents could quit their jobs at the aircraft factory and take on the traditional jobs that our ancestors had carried out in rural Vietnam before the war started and bombs tore up their land, but nope—all eighty chickens were going to be butchered and eaten, my parents announced. I was horrified: instead of a farm, our backyard was going to become a gravesite. I could already see the grass and wooden playground set covered in blood. A murder scene. The police would come to mark off the evidence. News reporters would surround our house, asking why we did it. I ran into the house and turned up the television so I wouldn’t hear the chickens screeching as my parents slit their throats.

And surely enough, the screeching came, overwhelming the TV, but there were no police sirens or invasive questions from news reporters. Instead, my parents’ friends had arrived and were squatting in an assembly line, each carrying out their own task. My parents at the front, passing the chicken drained of blood to Aunties who submerged them in a huge pot of boiling water and then passed the steaming flesh to Uncles who picked off the feathers. Their hands moved effortlessly, not letting a single drop of blood fall onto a blade of grass. They cracked jokes with each other, throwing their heads back, cackling, not even needing to look at what they were doing to accomplish it. I wondered if they had planned and practiced for this relay, if my parents’ purchase had really been an impulsive decision. They must have been doing this all their lives, I thought, working as one. They must have been born with this connection to their hands, to each other, and if that was indeed the case, then why hadn’t I been born with this gift? Why was I, their son, standing uneasily on the outside, afraid that if I joined them, I would throw their entire system haywire?

Wild, Wild East

“When I moved to Laramie, there were two establishments that relaxed the coiled springs in my back. The first was Walmart.”