A Valentine To The Chickens - Poem by Adrian Bennett
There are no surprises in this poem.
How can a poem about chickens
On the table a porcelain pitcher
in the shape of a chicken holds milk
for morning coffee. Tilt the chicken
and milk pours through its beak
open as if about to comment in the way
chickens often do.
Some potter’s idea of a joke:
chickens are somehow inherently funny.
Never did chicken pour milk
or anything else through its open mouth.
The reverse is more likely the case.
Rhode Island Reds,
The names seemed exotic in that
Connecticut so long ago
as if those chickens had come
from some very distant strange land.
Squawk cackle squawk they say
when I come into the chicken house.
They step over each other’s backs
flapping and fluttering their wings
trying to remember how to fly.
I laugh. They have a lot to say
or rather, they have one thing to say
and they don’t mind repeating it
as loudly as they can.
I dip the scoop into the bin
and spread the mash in the wooden troughs
my father had carpentered.
I spread the hard corn
kernels, their favorite food, over the mash
or scatter it in their penned-in yard.
They follow every move
catching kernels in the air
or on one bounce:
Cold winter mornings I come out of the house
with a kettle of steaming water.
In the chicken coop
a few are milling sleepily around
on the hay-strewn floor,
letting out a few soft clucks
forlorn, abandoned, classic pose of deep despair.
Many are still on the roost
featherless gray eyelids still raised,
dull eyes half open
pointed tongues hanging out of open beaks.
Their water has a skein of ice
they can’t break. They try. Peck peck.
No dice. Hopeless.
When they see me it’s as if
an alarm has gone off: late for work!
Late sleepers jump off their perches wings flapping
talking all at once in loud excited voices.
I pour the boiling water into the frozen trough,
steam rising all around me
in the winter morning air, as if I were some ancient god
appearing out of the mist to rescue them
from certain death.
They jostle, shove and peck each
other to be first at the trough.
When a chicken gets sick
its lower eyelids fold up
over glazed uncomprehending eyes
and it lies down and quietly dies
ignored by all her colleagues.
I did not know then that I
would carry these chickens with me
for the next half-century,
did not know then
that they were beautiful,
did not know then
how much I loved them.
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