• Julie Bolitho

Chicken Learning

I'm pleased to note that 'Chicken Learning' has been printed in the most recent edition of The Chaffin Journal.

Chicken Learning

Julie Bolitho

I am learning to sleep alone,

to lower the setting on the washing machine

for smaller loads of laundry,

to live with the ghosts of memory

that hide in the unfinished kitchen—

a project you began two years ago.

I haven’t mastered cooking for one.

The dogs eat a lot of scraps now.

The chickens too. Not just pieces of mango and pineapple,

but potato and black bean curry,

croissants leftover from experiments in vegan baking.

I have never been very good at sleeping

having spent adolescence in a perpetual state of insomnia,

only drowsily drifting when friends were near.

When Elisabeth spoke to the midwife about co-sleeping with her first child,

the midwife said, “All any of us really want

is to spend our lives sleeping next to someone.”

I could never bury an animal either,

having left my parents to bury the hamster,

the chinchillas and every other.

You always buried the hens,

but I have now learned how to dig a hole

and place stiffened body and feathers into the ground.

Our oldest girl though, Stella,

with her large chest and beautiful, deep red feathers,

who came to us in the first flock of rescue hens,

is sick now. Dying. Suffering when she is not in the sunlight

or instinctively vying for one last bread crumb.

I’ve read about chicken euthanasia.

Injections are unreliable, considered less humane.

A swift breaking of the neck is supposed to be best

but I cannot bring myself to learn this.

I cannot bring myself to hold her,

she who loves being held like a baby,

to speak softly to her and then twist her into death.

How could I? How could I nurture her,

teach her to love sunlight and wild birdsong

--she who spent her first years in factory cages—

and then take the same hand that taught her to go up a ramp,

into a coop and back down again,

and butcher her with it?

Yet, I suppose this is like our love:

something nurtured, brought to life

from the sleepless dim glow of childhoods

spent longing to be near someone,

then broken, with right fingers twisting the white gold band

off the left—the ring nothing more than a phantom,

a relic from a jewelry store in Bosnia.

Stella will come out tomorrow,

and I’ll watch her droop in the sun.

She will occasionally follow the patterns of light across the grass

to find the next warmest patch.

I will wonder again and again

about her little life,

when it is right to put an end to suffering,

how long to let what was nurtured try to survive.

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