We have a crew of house guests this weekend and last night we all tromped into the coop for hen introductions. It’s really fun to see people enjoy their first face-to-face with a live chicken. Invariably they are struck by the lustrous softness of the feathers, by the hens’ alert sociability and by the voracious interest in a handout of scratch. Those beaks mean business!
To many people, chicken is nothing but potential stir-fry. But some of us have had the good fortune of counting a flock of hens among our personal acquaintances, enjoying their affection and their ridiculousness. I am not alone in my admiration of Gallus Gallus. The folks at my new favorite web site tweetspeak have thoughtfully conflated National Poetry Month with their self-declared National Poultry Month, referencing extant chicken poetry and encouraging new works on the subject.
As we stood in the coop last night admiring my pretty hens, I thought anew about that niggling conundrum, the commoditization of the chicken. This lovely bird has the misfortune of being perhaps the most abundant, docile and portable source of protein for the planet and therein lies tragedy for the humble chicken. Here is poet Jane Mead’s powerful take on the subject:
Passing a Truck Full of Chickens at Night on Highway Eighty
BY JANE MEAD
What struck me first was their panic.
Some were pulled by the wind from moving
to the ends of the stacked cages,
some had their heads blown through the bars—
and could not get them in again.
Some hung there like that—dead—
their own feathers blowing, clotting
in their faces. Then
I saw the one that made me slow some—
I lingered there beside her for five miles.
She had pushed her head through the space
between bars—to get a better view.
She had the look of a dog in the back
of a pickup, that eager look of a dog
who knows she’s being taken along.
She craned her neck.
She looked around, watched me, then
strained to see over the car—strained
to see what happened beyond.
That is the chicken I want to be.
Slightly less dire is this classic:
Last Night I Dreamed of Chickens
Jack Prelutsky, 1940
Last night I dreamed of chickens,
there were chickens everywhere,
they were standing on my stomach,
they were nesting in my hair,
they were pecking at my pillow,
they were hopping on my head,
they were ruffling up their feathers
as they raced about my bed.
They were on the chairs and tables,
they were on the chandeliers,
they were roosting in the corners,
they were clucking in my ears,
there were chickens, chickens, chickens
for as far as I could see…
when I woke today, I noticed
there were eggs on top of me.
And my favorite chicken poem of all:
Happy weekend – read a poem! Hug a chicken!