The trouble with a suburban homestead, on chicken slaughter day, is the self-consciousness. Not that our neighbors have ever said an unkind word to us, or even voiced a gentle complaint, about the dawn chorus of crowing roosters these past few weeks. But since the boys hit maturity, in late July, I have woken to their racket at 4:15 every morning with a mixture of irritation (at the birds) and embarrassment (about them). When the neighbors drove past on their way to weekend errands and saw me next to the wood pile, spattered with blood and wielding a knife, the self-consciousness was acute.
We processed 32 birds on Saturday, a mixture of jumbo Cornish cross broilers and heritage roasters. The basement chest freezer is packed with whole chickens, jointed parts, bags of livers, hearts, gizzards, and feet. The heads and viscera went to our friends’ pigs at Broadturn Farm (thanks for the electric plucker!). The empty chicken tractor has already been pushed to the corner of the yard; the lawn mower sprays stray feathers at the kids’ swing set.
A poem, by Jack Gilbert, for the neighbors:
They have killed the rooster, thank God,
but it’s strange to have my half
of the valley unreported. Without the rooster
it’s like my place by the Chinese elm is not here
each day. As though I’m gone. I touch my face
and get up to make tea, feeling my heart claim
no territory. Like the colorless weeds which fail,
but don’t give in. Silent in the world’s clamor.
They killed the rooster because he could feel
nothing for the six frumpy hens. Now there is only
the youngster to announce and cover. They are only
aunts to him. Mostly he works on his crowing. And for
a long time the roosters on the other farms would not
answer. But yesterday they started laying
full-throated performances on him. He would come
back, but couldn’t get the hang of it. The scorn
and the failing went on until finally one day,
from the other end of the valley, came a deep
voice saying, “For Christ’s sake, kid, like this.”
And it began. Not bothering to declare parts
of the landscape, but announcing the glory,
the greatness of the sun and moon.
Told of the heavenly hosts, the mysteries
and the joy. Which were the Huns and which not.
Describing the dominions of wind and song. What was
noble in all things. It was very quiet after that.