NOR 4 #40: Chicken

By Stephen Cramer
Featured Image: For Sunday’s Dinner by William Michael Barnett

At the festival when we were celebrating
harvest with pumpkin tarts & cider,
an older farmer asked what I was into
& maybe my answer was muffled a bit
from the cider’s tang because he started
talking passionately not about his favorite poet
or the use of weather in haiku
but about his chickens: White Leghorns,
Silkie Bantams, Rhode Island Reds,

Plymouth Rocks, how, in Corporate Agriculture
the birds are bred so big that their legs
cripple beneath them & isn’t that a shame.
I tried to break in, to tell him he misheard.
But he shook his head & held up his finger.
That’s not the case with his birds.
When his hens are laying he puts oyster shells
in their grit to give them extra calcium
for their own shells. His birds are free range—
not debeaked & stuffed two dozen
to a pen. No, his birds can go anywheres they want
from the barn to the bog & even in the house.
Once he picked one up in town. Little devil
had some shopping to do, he guessed.
& freedom makes all the difference
in the world. You can taste their happiness,
he said, even see it—their yolks a rich,
almost tangerine color, not pale
like those you get from the grocery,
& he was starting to get short of breath
from excitement, & by this time,
to tell the truth, I was just hoping
he didn’t ask about my birds because
I don’t know if I could’ve broken it
to him: poetry, I said, not poultry.
But he had me wondering whether
some of my poems were debeaked
or crippled by heavy metaphors
& whether I could shove them into the air,
let them beat their flabby wings
straight over my highest fence.



Stephen Cramer’s first book of poems, Shiva’s Drum, was selected for the National Poetry Series and published by University of Illinois Press. Bone Music, his sixth, won the Louise Bogan Award and was published by Trio House Press. He is the editor of Turn It Up! Music in Poetry from Jazz to Hip-Hop. His work has appeared in journals such as The American Poetry Review, African American Review, The Yale Review, and Harvard Review. An Assistant Poetry Editor at Green Mountains Review, he teaches writing and literature at the University of Vermont and lives with his wife and daughter in Burlington.

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