F I R S T
By Jenifer McVaugh
A hen is always fowl—stupid, greedy,
dirty, affronted—but this hen is more. Sleek
green and handsome, bold, prouder than a cock,
she stalks alone. She strut-tuts along
my corridor, poking in the kitchen. Squawking
at all the dust, she makes herself at home
in my bedroom. Last night I found her
on top of the armoire. She cursed me out and scolded
off. I looked where she had been. There lay
She's one of the neighbor's dozens of hens,
dogs, cats, children, radio music
and grinding of corn. Everything but the dog,
(who bit me once and whom I chase) invades
my orchard. Hens, like water, find their own level,
they go wherever they please like the wind, like nature
they never quit. And wherever they go they leave
a trail of up-rooted seedlings and greasy dirt.
It's the withering seedlings I mind. Feces just
add insult to injury. I hate the hens. Javier's
grandmother, Amparo Gonsalez raised her children
here during the Mexican revolution.
She lived to be a very old woman and hated
the hens too. Like me she dreamed of killing them.
It would be different if the hens laid eggs
for me. Last year they did. An egg a day
at first, in a box somebody threw in my long
grass. I checked this egg plant every day
for fruit, harvesting an egg or two each time
(one stayed in the nest for libation or aide-memoire).
But then the mule got loose and ate the grass.
A would-be egg plant budded in the shed,
but never thrived, and was abandoned for
a bed that grew a dozen eggs before
I found it—a former privy, long abandoned
but still a fine dark hole, lined with leaves.
Fine until the day I reached in
and touched the neighbor's furry bitch, giving
birth in the dark. I said sorry and withdrew,
but the bitch never forgave me, and two weeks after
the pups were born and she had regained her strength
she chased me down to give me a good bite.
Where the affronted hens went thereafter
to lay their eggs I never discovered. I guessed
they played it safe at home to lay, and just
came to my place to ravage and excrete.
This year, of course, those hens have had their turn
as the neighbor's food and waste. The hens that now
strut and screech and stain have never heard
of the curse that haunts my orchard. They peck all day
under my limes. Surely, I think, the urge
must take them to lay. I check the shed, the privy,
a couple of spots that I would chose (were I
a hen) to lay, but find nothing. I buy
a box and an egg for two pesos and plant
this nest in the long grass, now grown back.
The next morning the box is still there
but the egg is gone. The panic of the uncanny
bubbles up—until I realize the old
bitch must have learned a new trick.
I dog-proof the shed and lay a burlap bag
for a cushion in the darkest corner. I eye
crotches of trees and think of snugly-built
boxes. It's no obsession, however! Most
of the time I hardly think about hens. Hence
my surprise to come home and find a hen on the armoire.
Hence my mingled joy and dismay to find,
on the top of the armoire, left behind her indignant,
ruffled retreat, two eggs.
advises me to take more care with my door. "These hens
soil wherever they go! Imagine your things!"
He's right, of course. But some dirty, greedy
part of me, the hen part, has made
me leave one egg in situ on the suitcase on top
of the armoire and keep my door alluringly ajar.
And this morning the verdant black hen came in
while I was in the kitchen. When I came back
with my coffee she was flapping her wings on the floor, wishing
with all her might that she were on the armoire.
I closed the door. She pecked sharply the desk
feet, chair feet, dust motes. Then she poised herself,
heaved mightily, flew to the top of the armoire,
took a long, hard look around and fell
Sometimes she will shift position.
I see her feathers ruffle. Various bladders
inflate as if she is holding her breath. A natural
henish smell floats in the air and is gone.
All I can see is her face, the least expressive
part of a hen. She glares at me then turns
to inspect closely the place her tail has been.
She flaps her wings and shrieks for a door to go out.
I spring to swing it open and shut it politely
behind her before I drag a chair to climb
and peek at where she sat.
If there is
just one cold egg and a squat of shit, Javier
is right, I guess, I should be careful. If
the egg I left is gone (who knows?) then
it wasn't the dog it was the ghost and I'll
leave this village at once for an ordinary place
where eggs come by the dozen without any drama.
Yes. But if there are two toast brown fruits
nestled up there side by side, two
new worlds inside two soft
warm shells that nuzzle my hand to touch
them, life where before there was only a couple
of empty suitcases, rich, white and gold
manna to sustain me, then I will praise you,
life, you, spirit, you, hen!
And I will humbly gather you, egg,
and eat you with relish, with abandon, with praise and thanksgiving,
with butter and salt and leave your twin to lure
our mother, once more and once again
to the top of the armoire, where, ever more and ever
again, never less than miracles are laid.
Published in Oyster Boy Review 10