Poems by Mary Elizabeth Rosa
International Respect for Chickens Day
May 3, 2022
In 2012, a British architecture student suggested excising chickens’ cerebral cortex to desensitize them to horrific factory conditions. By leaving their brain stems intact, he said that the birds could continue to grow, while removing their feet would allow more chickens to be stacked in large vertical steel frames. Removing their eyes would render them even more amenable. Pondering the implications of these “solutions” for humans as well as the helpless chickens inspired this poem.
I’m submitting the poem for the International Respect for Chickens
Day campaign because I respect and support respect for chickens, all
creatures, ourselves, and our planet.
— Mary Elizabeth Rosa
How much do you need —
my tail, my beak, my wings?
How much do I need to give
before I take
a long awaited breath?
You know me only
in relation to your plate.
And after you remove my brain, my eyes,
and I sit blind with a nameless ache
(you say I can’t describe anyway),
who do you become?
Who do you think you are?
When you finish devouring me
with all my unnamed pain,
I will still be
with an emptiness
that bites again and again —
a mordant ache
you will never be able to name.
Mary Elizabeth Rosa
Written for Fluffy (named for her plumage, not her character) and the kind folks who helped her transition to her next adventure. After almost 90 days in our yard, she now lives nearby, sharing a sprawling yard and excellent care with thirteen other hens who listen spellbound to her tales in their cozy barn every night.
Marooned in a hemlock that creaks like a door to somewhere I can’t go,
the hen has settled herself in a late December storm.
Whatever cage she fled months before, she’s huddled now,
feet cold and clutching an icy branch carefully chosen
two dark days ago
when the winds and rain began.
I am worrying below, gazing up with vain thoughts of a ladder.
As if… she would ever let me take her down…
For she has watched us all —
the SPCA man with his rubbery noose
light in his fingers, poised to take her.
She remembers the clever traps, the coy attempt to lure her
with a caged rooster, who cried, “Run, hide, fly!”
But the humans didn’t know, they only heard themselves:
Winter is coming,
she needs others of her kind,
stop feeding her.
She will surely die.
And, oh, I, too, want to save her,
warm and dry, but
I don’t know what she wants.
One foot and then the other tucks up into her feathers,
then finds the branch again.
Preparing for another night
she bows her head
into the freezing wind,
her buoyant, russet coat now flat like rusted blood —
my brave and free, extraordinary friend.
I will simply wait.
And wait again.
Marooned or liberated,
she is living her precious life.
She is saving herself.
Mary Elizabeth Rosa