I’m Scared to Look at the Chicken in the Dog Crate in the Mud Room

by Hope Miller

Because in her eyes, pin dots in orange marmalade, there’s only my own failure.
In her upside-down blink, eyelids clicking closed like a camera shutter, there’s the fact
that I didn’t act in time.

She stood funny on Sunday, alone under the oak, hunkered down. She pressed her eyes closed as if she were lost in imaginative wanderings. The others ignored her, like I did.

Those Rhode Island Reds will outlast us all, I thought. She’s fine.

She’s fine.

We know that the victory makes us small, every triumph reveals our petty nature.
The falsehood that we can vanquish, we can conquer—
that we hold dominion over it all.

Back under the oak on Monday. Missing feathers behind her comb. The others
have pecked her. She toddled to the water, gargled a beakfull.

She’s fine.

On Tuesday, I googled “yellow chicken poop” and scooped her up, away from the others.
The border collie donated her crate to the cause. The hen lived in the mud room, in the crate.
She roosted on the stick we threaded through. She gulped her water,
full of probiotics, electrolytes, dewormer.

She’s fine.

By Saturday, she stopped roosting and scuttled through the pine shavings to get to the water.

She’s sick.

Sunday again, and I’m scared to look
at my failure and ineptitude.
Her eyelids clicking closed. No snap judgment.

On Monday, I sob on the couch. Alone, hunkered down.
She breathes in gasps, eyes mostly closed. Her comb, purple.

Tuesday, conquered by the angel who took your life, lifting you aloft on clipped wings,
I dig a hole. In the mud, before lunch, looking over my shoulder for the coyote
who reigns over the ridge.

This is what it is: the perennial human stumble
Toward something like benevolence,
grace for creation,
begging for mercy for ourselves.
Clemency for humanity as we rail against the eternal,
pushing the boulder of grief up the hill,
and over the cliff toward hope.

I go back to check on the others.

They’re fine.

photo credit: Andrey Tikhhonovskiy, Unsplash