On Chickens: A Pastiche

Small town Illinois girl, once London-lost,
now Colorado-, I feed chickens
plastic-packaged crumble. Crumbled what?
It’s non-organic. Half the cost.
It worries me I can’t afford to do the right thing.[1]
It’s winter. Foraging is over. Grasshoppers live
in my omelet even when I forget every bone
and bird and worm has spirit in it.[2]
What spirit lives in crumble?

Other times, excruciatingly alive, [3] I flinch.
Once, a white local rancher/landlord told my man
(must you know he’s Black?)
The previous tenant—white trash—
nigger-rigged the bathroom plumbing.
We didn’t say a thing, just blinked.
Later, chewing chicken fajitas, he laughed,
Maybe I’ll just Digger-rig* it. He didn’t say,
Cast down your bucket where you are,[4]
though this is what he has to do. Unruffled,
Nebraska born, he perfectly plumbed
that bathroom. He didn’t say, We wear the mask. [5]
Unemployed, last night he dreamed his legs
were white like mine when he removed his pants
to give them to the homeless San Francisco man.

What does his skin have to do
with mine? Middle aged, I have cried
that we will bear no blackish child [6]
nor have to hide my father’s
cherished 19th century will
in which a slave was passed down to a son.
I won’t forget my father’s gleeful, childhood
march to Beethoven. Kill the Jews! Kill!
he dreamed they must have sung.
Or ever hear him say,
Let those I love try to forgive
What I have made. [7]

Instead of eat[ing him] like air, [8]
I [ache] as if he were already gone. [9]
Unlike my solid daughter, I crumble,
feed myself to flightless chickens
I’ve never had to steal
nor slaughter.

April 2014


*A small town high school football team is called the Beetdiggers. Fans refer to themselves as “Diggers.”

All excerpts are from The Heath Anthology of American Literature, Concise, 1st Edition, edited by Paul Lauter:

[1] Sherman Alexie, “What you Pawn I Will Redeem,” p. 1603
[2] Gloria Anzaldua, Borderlands/La Frontera, p. 1457
[3] Gloria Anzaldua, Borderlands/La Frontera, p. 1458
[4] Booker T. Washington, “Up from Slavery,” p. 517
[5] Paul Laurence Dunbar, “We Wear the Mask,” p. 465
[6] Gwendolyn Brooks, “A Bronzeville Mother Loiters in Mississippi,” p. 1052
[7]  Ezra Pound, “CXX,” p. 637.
[8] Sylvia Plath, “Lady Lazarus,” p. 1175
[9] Alison Bechdel, “Fun Home: A Family Tragicomic,” p. 1637

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