Poetry / December 2017 (Issue 38)


by Peter Kennedy

for Simon Armitage

I am a chicken-chopper. "Half?" "Quarters?" I chop chickens sixteen hours a day.

The neighbours call me siu hok gai.* My father was Scottish. He was Cock of the Walk. "What's worn under the kilt? Nothing, it's all in perfect working order." "Well, you can call it a sporran." It was the age of disco and he strutted his stuff. You know that Stones song? He WAS the little Red Rooster. The Funky Chicken was his dance but in those days, my people were always being ripped off. Strangers got rich, he got chicken feed: seeds, lizards and insects mostly. I like Dire Straits—"money for nothing'...", some blues, you know Chicken Shack? "I'd rather go blind, than to see you walkin' away from me...". Though, I'd rather not. My mother says that at 40, after fourteen years of chopping, I should have more ambition. "You're no spring chicken, son." Doesn't she know? Has she forgotten our people's history? Why'd you think he called you "hen"?

I hate the office workers at lunchtime. Cooped up all morning, they've got 20 minutes to gobble down a bucket of finger lickin' nugget burgers. I don’t serve them. They are deaf to the poetry of 'rotisserie' and 'baste'; the slow rotation, golden grease shimmer, the dripping juices of a moist bird. No, I never take a day off. Seven days a week. In the afternoons, if things are slow, I can read. Chicken Soup for the Soul—I keep them under the counter—stories of hope, courage and inspiration. Do you know them? Stay at Home Mom, Messages from Heaven, My Cat’s Life; my favourite is Food & Love.

I do sleep a bit. With the other hour? I range free. I'm a cock not a rooster. Look at the plumage. I'm King of the roof tops. The chicks? With us it's five to one. Then we up and we tup them all again. In Lan Kwai Fong, I rule the roost. No, you haven’t seen us fly. We don't let you. The red crown is called a wattle. It’s not a hygienic rubber glove—they are blue.

Yeah, I know you want to ask: "Why do you kill your own?" Don't you get it? Chicken—kitchen? "You can't make an omelette..." Look, they are not our own anyway. We are not gallus gallus domesticus. There are 24 billion of them. My family is from Kiev, Maryland, French aristocracy—the Chasseurs. We go right back to the Red Jungle Fowl of India. The underbred can't tell a capon from a pullet.

We do take a few new recruits. No buff Orpingtons or Rhode Island Reds of course, no chickadees or chickarees.** I can put in a word with the committee but, you know, don't count your.... It's fighting bantams we really need: a Buckeye Brown, a Jersey Giant or a Spitzhausen with spurs. Those with the bottle and the wattle. Of course cocks fight! Every Saturday night. Come on. Join us. Don't be chicken, man!

* "primary chicken"—an immature person behaving like a gauche primary school pupil
** titmice and red squirrels


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