How do you dive deep when talking about chickens? This is a particular genius Henri Cole has: brief brush strokes of common events laid side by side with the philosophical. The poem describes, first person–just a guy relating an experience–him calling the chickens to eat, picking one up, and telling her, “Everything will be okay.” Then three lines later Cole pulls out his laser and delivers a line worthy of poet and priest, Gerard Manley Hopkins: “God dooms the snake to taste nothing but the dust . . .” It’s quite a feat, and in fourteen lines, too. Here’s the poem, originally published in The Atlantic. Below it, Henri Cole explains where it came from and reads it.
By Henri Cole
It’s good for the ego, when I call and they come
running, squawking and clucking, because it’s feedtime,
and once again I can’t resist picking up little Lazarus,
an orange-and-white pullet I adore. “Yes, yes, everything will be
okay,” I say to her glaring mongrel face. Come September,
she’ll begin to lay the blue-green eggs I love poached.
God dooms the snake to taste nothing but the dust
and the hen to 4,000 or so ovulations. Poor Lazarus—
last spring an intruder murdered her sisters and left her
garroted in the coop. There’s a way the wounded
light up a dark rectangular space. Suffering becomes
the universal theme. Too soft, and you’ll be squeezed;
too hard, and you’ll be broken. Even a hen knows this,
posing on a manure pile, her body a stab of gold.