Four eggs

Hollowness. Behind the eyes, in a stiff flat steel line down through the sternum. Guilt. Regret. Begets tension. And stress. Like Heath Ledger clenching his jaw. The deep buried pop when stumps split. Judge me for this. Blame I. Tie me to all of my bad decisions. The world wonders which one of all of us sinks first. I’m waiting to see who learns to breathe underwater. I have. I learned to breathe without lungs, even. So underwater is no problem. Far off outer space isn’t either. Death is a sort of spacesuit you take off in order to stand naked before God. And God, is a sort of word we use to describe what language and science have yet to adequately name.
In order to give it the blame.

Fire. Twenty feet higher. Than the house six chickens burned alive in.
Four eggs in the garage.

Hollowness. Sadness.
Did you know the human being is the only creature that can survive gutted.

Farm. Or be Farmed

The farmer kills chickens when he is hungry, and Japanese beetles,
when they are too, clipping his corn. The farmer still does it.
Crushing shiny bodies between finger and thumb. Red guts.
Wiped on long wagging green tongues. But the beetles keep on.
Out around twelve, more toward dusk. Man has a husk. Armor.
Which can be pierced, eaten into, through.
And chickens, beetles, they do too.

I suppose the farmer feels bitten. Harmed.
And this is why he ends them all. Big or small.

Farm or be farmed.

Farm or be farmed.

The farmer kills chickens when he or she is hungry.
And Japanese beetles when they are too. Killing the corn.

The farmer still does it.
Crushes reflective bodies between finger and thumb.
Red guts wiped on long wagging green tongues.

The beetles keep on also.
Out around eleven and on toward dusk.

Man has a husk. Armor. Which can be pierced. Eaten into. Through.
And chickens, beetles, these things do too.

I suppose all farmers feel a little bit bitten. Harmed.
And maybe this is why they kill them all. Big or small.

Farm or be farmed.

New Rooster #projectlocal

About five years ago, my father purchased fifteen fresh hatched chickens for me to raise. The end goal being a freezer full of meat that knew life before it met the knife. He was to take ten of them, and I took five. But somewhere along the line, I changed my mind and decided to keep at least one rooster for the farm. Out of fifteen baby birds that showed up at five thirty in the morning at the local post office, stuffed in a box, this single Rhode Island Red was the only one who made it past a year.

There are many common misconceptions about chickens. And roosters in particular. One is that it is impossible for two roosters to cohabitate, in the same coop, tending the same brood. It isn’t all the way true. In my experience, roosters who have known separate farms, separate flocks, at least a year or two apart, will most likely fight it out a few times, and if one does not give up, which one usually does, they will continue to be a problem. But definitely not a fight to the death all at once. I’ve seen years pass by between warring chickens. As long as one backs down at some point, they’ll go on neighboring. Also, if one bird is raised around a grown rooster, or two dibby roosters grow up together, they won’t even fight. As long as a hierarchy remains solidified, a rooster really doesn’t want to peck anything to death. This was the case with the Rhode Island Red. I had another rooster on the farm, but he was no threat, so they all got along.

Then five years passed by. My older rooster, affectionately called Big Daddy, got to the point his legs couldn’t pick him up anymore. So the young one inherited the whole flock of over twenty, all to himself, for about two years. Never intended to make it past six months. You go into farming thinking it is all about this ebbing balance between life and death. Then you find out they’re both in a three-way with time. And time has a way of making life and death trade masks. It made one out of fourteen, five years out of half of one, and what would have been a single meal into half a decade of crowing, strutting, staring down tree-lines and running off hawks. But time, like all other things, has limits. It can’t make an exhausted heart keep beating, or tired legs go a mile. And just a few weeks ago, home late from rehearsal, we found the Rhode Island rooster had died.

Now, on my street, some of our neighbors are gamehens and roosters. Partially kept. Partially wild. Roosting in this short thick Magnolia tree. They hatch eggs with no human interference. There are a ton of them. Mostly little screechy males who strut slow in the road and head tilt at car bumpers and crow. Randomly, about a week after my rooster passed away at his first hint of old age, I had one of those roadside neighbor to neighbor conversations in passing as I was getting home from work. And wouldn’t you know, she offered me to keep one of these for the most part wild roosters already roaming my yard for weeks. Of course I laughed at the idea of being able to catch one, let alone having one actually get along with my hens, stay in my coop, commit full time to my farm.

I thought it was laughable. I’m not exaggerating when I say there are seven or more of these little guys roaming up our street at any given time. But, to my disbelief, one especially small game rooster, the color of a slice of sunset, just started hanging around my birds. All the time. Stopped crossing the street every night to roost in his squat magnolia tree. Caught him sleeping on a perch in my coop, where he has now been staying every night. Completely committed to the flock. Now this is not a rooster I bought. Not a rooster I went looking for, or asked about. Not one I even want, really. But it helps to have him. He watches the birds, watches the sky, finds worms in the yard and cluck-struts to call them all over. They get along, and most importantly, he knows people are people and birds are birds. Because when that line gets blurred, it makes for a fighty rooster. He is small, much smaller than the others, smaller, even, than most hens. Which I think they prefer.

This story stands out to me in particular because of the effortlessness of this modest exchange of power. How a natural opening formed on my farm, and natural excess from down the road emigrated up and filled it. How no money changed hands. Just the mere utterance of an idea by a roadside one afternoon. But the universe was listening. And without much intention, one of its humble feathered counterparts perked up and answered the call. A new rooster, to replace the one who almost never was. A new voice, to sing to the sunrise. A seed of orange fire lit up in his eyes.

But why, why this one and not another, why this one but not all the others?
Every rooster learns to crow, even after the sun has risen.
But I think, somewhere along the line, this new rooster of mine,
he learned to listen.

A Crimson that Lasts Forever

They leave metal edges on the insides of lawn mower engines sharp.
Pull cord broke. Spool fell out tucked under Honda’s little black-painted hood,
and a whole coil of flat tense sharp and hard came undone.
It was rewrapping this infuriatingly functional component,
rewinding that winding coil up tight and small,
when an as sharp as a kitchen blade metal dove deep into the white cartilage
of my middle finger knuckle. Held that arm up above my head, to God,
to balance, to the stonewall all the tools were not neatly strewn out on.
Waiting like a child for discomfort to pass, for some parent
to sweep down like a miracle and make a distraction.
Four hours in on an eight hour work day,
and that hand must keep going, gripping,
pulling handled cords and squeezing plastic gas mixture powered triggers,
arriving home to a large-udder goat, counting on the milking
she’s been getting each afternoon, and soon, rather than later,
one handed the impatient beast, took twice as long, more time gone,
and a yard still full of soft stalk moss-dotted grass needed to be worked on,
and, about fifteen dibby birds too young to know to put their value up at night.
Never seen a raccoon’s leftovers of her majesty plucked alive, eaten raw,
from the crown to scaly yellow legs and red, white down scattered all over.
A little Rhode Island Red beat her wings just the right way.
Scratched her twiggy claws and must have flipped that whole slice
of wrinkled skin on my knuckle back, because every other bird
I touched that night has blood on its feathers.

In a few weeks though, each one will receive her opportunity
to repay the favor. To show their truest color.
And we will have stained one another
with a crimson that lasts forever.

No better place than a farm for a writer.

Each egg is a long story. Refilled buckets, feed and water,
maintained roof and three tin walls, excrement in the stalls,
hay floor pens, and them, that upright gathering,
clean taupe brown and red speckled.

A farmer can tell a young bird in her first few cycles just by the dented,
stunted, oblong shape of a typically light cream almost snow white colored egg.

The health of the goat can be smelled lingering around the wealth of her udders,
enough milk and milking to make the beginners hands shudder,
taste the changing days, warming her bloated belly in the burgeoning sun,
the torn green grass and severed flesh tanned hay,
the sweet, yellow kernel dotted feed they clamor,
bellow, knocking sisters over.

The farmer lives by the first and most essential rule of writing.
Your characters are alive. Your labor suffers and hungers same as you.

For all the nuances and imbalances of your work to read,
each one must breathe, bleed, breed, heed you,
dominant call and still muster up height, courage to challenge,
search out and discover that dip below the fence,
the one section where a farmer failed to measure the top wire,
so it hangs low.

Anticipate the protrusion of some familiar mediocre star
mounting the curved unsuspecting hips of a dry horizon.
Crow for it. At it. Beating wings and cotton throat sings
every outbreak of day.

Give thanks and praise
that these planetary bodies once fucked,
and made way for yet another growing season.
Another day. Another reason to crow.

Like a farmer, plant the seeds of what you want to eat.
And like a writer, watch the stories grow.