A girl I used to love who didn’t love me had
a childhood friend whose father worked
at a chicken plant. All the spotted chicks
would be drowned, so she begged until her father
brought several home. In their new pen,
the chicks began to peck each other’s spots,
their blood splattering, which gave them more spots
to peck, until all died but one. That one, she raised.
My dad and uncles used to dredge out the old silage
at the bottom of the pit, which had lain, fermenting,
for months, shoveled it into a bucket, and let the chickens
have at it until they stumbled and lurched
around the Fish Shack, mimicking their owners.
Erma Bombeck once claimed, as a child, she taught
her pet chicken to walk backwards. Others have claimed
to teach theirs math.
There are more varieties of chickens than people I’ve ever met.
At my grandmother’s house, they would spend
all day hopping and gliding from a stump
to the swing set to a small tree, but they rarely
got as high as the roof. They ranged free, the road
still gravel, mostly unused, though the odd car
did catch the more adventurous ones.
Even a pig sty smells less offensive than a chicken coop.
Chickens will de-infest a garden better than any herbicide,
and their feces will fertilize the garden.
The FDA designations of cage free and free range
do not, in fact, denote freedom or a lack of cages.
On our third and final date, that wasn’t really a date, we met
at a friend’s farm. There was a pen with pullets of all
varieties. She sat in the grass, to let them come to her.
My daughter overcame her protectiveness and snuggled
beside her while I stood—separate—and watched them smile.
CL Bledsoe is the author of a dozen books, most recently the novel, Man of Clay, and the poetry collection, Riceland. He’s been nominated for the Pushcart Prize thirteen times, Best of the Net three times, and had two stories selected as Notable Stories of the Year by Story South‘s Million Writer’s Award. Bledsoe has published stories, poems, essays, plays, and reviews in hundreds of journals and websites, including The Cimarron Review, The Arkansas Review, Pank, Nimrod, New York Quarterly, Barrow Street, Gargoyle, The Hollins Critic, New World Writing (formerly Mississippi Review Online), Hobart, The Pedestal Magazine, and many others. Originally from a rice farm in eastern Arkansas, Bledsoe now lives in northern Virginia with his daughter.