earlier every day—
bird on a roof sings
Chickens peck at the cool, fresh globe
stabbed by an eyescrew, hung by a chain,
heads bobbing with each playful bite
as they bat the food-toy one to the next,
back and forth, back and forth, and
I stand, a child in the museum foyer,
hypnotized watching a hundred-pound ball
knock down pegs as it swings in easy
rotation—or rather, as its path stays fixed
and the earth spins beneath—
back and forth, back and forth, and
every few minutes, the sound—click—
of Foucault’s proof. Today I muse
Did the French devise tetherball too?
I recently took a (free) poetry on Coursera, Sharpened Visions, taught by Douglas Kearney from the MFA program at the California Institute of Arts. It was a 6-week class that covered the basics of writing poetry and offered several assignments for practice. (If you’re interested, the next round starts September 12, 2016.)
As a fairly experienced poet, I found the course a good refresher, and I even took away a few new terms (synecdoche, metonymy). The sample poems studied were fresher than one often finds in an introductory level poetry class, which offered a chance to meet some new voices. I’d also note the instructor has an amusing (to me) sense of humor and the production quality of the videos is high relative to other online courses I’ve taken.
Week 2 of the class focused on image (things you can literally touch/taste/see/hear/smell) and abstraction (things for which we have symbols, e.g., a heart for love). One of the fun assignments was to make up a title in the format “The [Concrete noun] of [Abstract noun],” then write that poem.
Thus, I present “The Cabbage of Illumination.”
One last promenade
atop the coop before
a long solstice night.
Christmas week we lost another chicken, the second in 2015 (we lost Victoria in February). Poor little Anne had been showing some oddities throughout the year but in December she started showing more specific symptoms (lack of appetite, lethargy, etc.), and just before solstice we took her to the vet at NC State. We weren’t willing to do extensive tests and treatment, and the vet said even with them, Anne probably had something serious (e.g., cancer rather something simple like worms).
We decided to euthanize her and have an autopsy done. Preliminary results suggested Marek’s, which is a viral disease chickens are susceptible to. While our chickens were vaccinated for Marek’s, chances are the vaccination wears off at some point (it probably varies by breed). In Anne’s case, the disease resulted in tumors all over her insides that compressed her egg-laying apparatus as well as her GI tract.
We were relieved that the autopsy results showed she had something wrong that we couldn’t have prevented. (We want to be good chickenparents!) And we felt comfortable that we made the right decision about euthanization. As a side benefit, the NC State vet program lets the veterinary students do the autopsies as part of their studies; it made us happy to contribute in that way too.
The photos on this page are not recent. As the chickens have aged, they’ve been less interested in jumping up to the heights. (Leave that for the little chirps!) But shortly before Anne got sick she started flapping up to the top of the coop again. Margaret would follow sometimes, but she is bigger and ungainlier than Anne was, so struggled to get her heft up there. When the chickens jump up to the coop (or chair or bench), we always imagine they are saying, “I like to be tall, Chickenmama! I like to see everything, Chickenpapa!” I guess she wanted one last look before the dark night came.
We miss you, little Annabel! Bye-bye!
You are lucky, little geese—
traffic is light this morning,
and I am behind the wheel.
I went to a writing conference Saturday (Triangle Area Freelancers’ Write Now! conference—they did a great job). As I drove there around 8am on a state highway in an urban area, I had to brake suddenly for a family of geese padding into my lane. I quickly glanced in the rear-view mirror and was relieved there were no cars immediately behind me. To the best of my knowledge, the family made it safely across the road. Whew.
I am happy to report I successfully completed NaPoWriMo—30 poems in 30 days.
The first 19 poems were posted here, generally in response to some prompt. The last 11 are part of a series I’m developing. Since they are such early drafts, there’s not a lot worth sharing from the poems themselves, but I do have a few observations:
I may offer an update periodically, but for now it is just nice to have a big chunk of raw material to work with. 🙂
Since I stopped posting new poems after Day 19, I’ve been working on the larger project I mentioned. So far I’ve drafted 8 poems. I’m not planning to post them because they need to get “connected” and revised to work together. But so far 19+8=27. Just 3 more poems today and tomorrow to hit the goal of 30 poems in 30 days.
Glad I shifted focus. 🙂
A poem a day? Uninspiring.
I need a new challenge to expand my brain’s wiring.
The Day 19 prompt from napowrimo was to write a landay (which I actually did that day—just slow getting it posted). This is a form that I had not heard of. In a nutshell, it is 2 lines of 22 syllables (9+13) that rhymes. And the history is intriguing. It is a form of poetry from Afghanistan, typically used by Pashtun women, generally only spoken and often covering themes of love, grief, homeland, war, and separation. If you click through to the article about landays, you can scan it quickly for examples.
This is the third year I’ve done NaPoWriMo and so far this time around, I haven’t been generating anything particularly interesting. It has felt more like an dull obligation rather than a creative inspiration. I’m not giving up on writing poetry daily, but I decided to shift focus. For a while now I’ve had some raw notes that I have been meaning to working into a series of poems, so I’m going to start working with those. I’m not sure they will lend themselves to a daily poem, but I’ll offer periodic updates on my progress, maybe sharing a few lines if it makes sense.
OK, so happy NaPoWriMo, everyone—enjoy your writing!
black hens preen
beaks make feathers gleam
each hen a queen
When chickens preen they take oil from the urophygial gland near the base of the tail and distribute it throughout their feathers. Preening cleans the feathers and the oil keeps the feather “filaments” (that’s probably not the right word) together and improves the feathers’ insulation and waterproof properties. When the oil gets “stale,” the chickens dustbathe to get it off; then they preen with fresh oil. (I don’t mean to sound like it is an infrequent activity—chickens actually spend a fair amount of the day preening.)
Also kind of interesting, preening tends to take place as a group activity. From an evolutionary standpoint, it is probably safer to have the whole flock preen together; that way at any one time some chicken’s eye is watching for predators. With our little flock, only two at the moment, they have demonstrated a preference to be under a bush while preening—also a safety instinct, I would guess.
The whitish eyelid you see in the second picture (it’s on Anne) is the nictitating membrane—sort of an extra eyelid. My understanding is that chickens use it kind of as PPE (personal protective equipment). You tend to see it when they are dustbathing (presumably to keep the dust out of their eyes) or when they are preening (I suppose to avoid poking themselves with a feather as they’re digging in). They use a different eyelid (the lower one) when sleeping. The top eyelid apparently doesn’t move much.
BTW today’s poetry prompt was to write a poem using only two vowels (a and e in this case). Not a very good poem, but it was fun to get pix of the preening.
Want to make someone giggle on command?
I had a huge crush on gymnast Nadia Comaneci.
Vinyl records are definitely worth celebrating.
Their field of vision wraps nearly all the way around their head!
The train was still going full speed when their conversation became louder.
If this pic doesn’t scream, we don’t know what does.
When even Daleks think you’re a monster, you might have a problem.
When did we become a therapy society?
Why did the chicken cross the road?
#dragonslovetacos (at least 48 grams recommended daily).
Yes, there is an American bias in the Hugo awards.
Technique tip: Use kitchen scissors to easily cut.
I never thought I’d write a science poem.
Fantastic! Thank you so much for your hard work today!
I’m doing things and stuff in the real world over the weekend.
Supervillains have no respect for anyone’s schedule.
I warned you this prompt was a little strange.
Today’s prompt came from napowrimo.net: Write a “social media”-style poem. Namecheck all of your friends. Quote from their texts, tweets, FB status updates, twitter accounts, and blogposts, and the back of the cereal box on your breakfast table.
Well, I quoted from Twitter and blog posts and the back of the cereal box on my breakfast table. Skipped the namechecking though. (Let me know if you really WANT to be namechecked.)
Bonus points if you can name the cereal…
Oh, my dear Gallus gallus domesticus,
I remember your hatching—a precocial chick—
then those months as a pullet before you
matured into a hen. I want you to know
I’ve never cared about your TBC1D1 gene,
but I sure do appreciate that TSHR switch.
Operant conditioning? Couldn’t manage you
without it. I’m impressed with your beak’s
somatic sensory nerve cells.
And your 31 vocalizations—I might not
recognize them all, but I do know
INTRUDER ALERT! INTRUDER ALERT!
BEHOLD! I HAVE OVULATED! and
MONOTONY! TEDIUM! ENNUI!!!
Yes, my Gallus gallus domesticus,
I am grateful to your red junglefowl progenitor,
but ever so glad you can’t aviate as well.
Today’s prompt came from Poetic Asides: write a science poem. As I am taking Coursera’s course “Chicken Behaviour and Welfare” aka #chickenmooc, I thought I would apply my Week 1 learnings.
And now, once again, in English…
Ode to my Chicken
Oh, my dear chicken,
I remember your hatching—a hungry little fluffball—
then those months as a teenager before you
bloomed into a hen. I want you to know
I’ve never cared if you get big (we don’t plan to eat you),
but I sure do appreciate your eggs all winter.
Scratch is your favorite food—gets you back in the coop
every time. I’m impressed how your beak can pick up
oatmeal dust from the pavement.
And your 31 funny noises—I might not
recognize them all, but I do know
ALARM! ALARM! ALARM! ALARM! ALARM!
LOOK AT ME! I LAID AN EGG! and
BORED! BORRRR-ING! BORED!!!
Yes, my dear chicken,
I am grateful to your red junglefowl ancestor,
but ever so glad you can’t fly as well.