Writing Memoir

A fist full of chickens

rooster-man
Friend of the family (the man, not the bird), Lamphun, 2014

I was living at an adventure camp in Colorado where for a few years the owners experimented with raising farm animals. A counselor was on dinner duty and I tagged along. We fed the pigs with the kitchen slop and now were entering the shadowy cage of the chicken coop. Like a coward I followed behind her, hunched over – the rooster was reputed to be ornery. I had heard many shrieks from the coop and I didn’t want to be spurred. I’ll admit I have a fine pair of legs and I wanted them to stay that way.

It seems absurd to be frightened by a smallish bird with a comb but when he charged I screamed and retreated. My companion was braver; she grabbed a broom and fended off the beast as best as she could but her cries of, “Open the door! Open the door!” Let me know that she too was afraid of the rooster’s wrath.

Raising chickens has become quite the hip hobby in the United States. Within the city of Portland, Oregon, by law, you are permitted to own three hens in your suburban yard. I have also been made aware of a particular chicken webcam located in the Northeast that allows you to watch a flock of Rhode Island Reds (and a couple of goats), if you are so inclined. Then there is my friend Aunt Kay in Northern Florida who owns all kinds of breeds (it’s her latest thing) from Plymouth Rocks to Silkies; here they roost on their massive chicken coop, under colorful umbrellas, the roof covered food trough and incubator by the garage. Yes, sir, the back-to-the-land movement has turned over a new compost pile and the pousson is back.

And then there is Thailand. Yes, Thailand where chickens are a much more urgent pursuit. Because there is certainly more frequent contact with the feathered fowl here. Now I can’t say they are “the island of Kauai everywhere” (where they have become part of the wildlife – is there such a thing as a rabid chicken?) but I can say they are mostly everywhere as in giblets in the Thanksgiving gravy.

When I was five, we visited my mother’s family in Lamphun; I saw my first cockfight. And I didn’t like it. I regretted following my curiosity after I poked my head between the reeds of people. Feeling sad, I retreated and like the child I was I couldn’t articulate exactly why.

Recently I watched another cockfight by my aunt’s store where my uncle sold his winning cock for 1000 baht. I still didn’t like it and it took me less time to figure out that my first impression would be my final answer. To own a chicken or a rooster or a whole mess of them is money but you wouldn’t know it by looking at these scrawny birds.

Chickens here are not so much an acquired taste, I mean how many people do you know that don’t like to eat chicken; as much as these birds are a forfeit of a trivial part of your soul. I think it is common for expats to trade tales of the neighborhood roosters who crow under your window or by your apartment during the wee hours of the early morn to the startling hours of on the hour every hour.

I’ve gotten used to it. But when you are getting acclimated to the cacophony of tin roof dancing, scratching, flying, cackling, scurrying, fighting, coo coo crowing and of course, the occasional chicken crossing the road, it can test the steeliest of Buddha-like nerves.

I’ll leave you with a poem I wrote Sunday morning:

avoiding snails while riding a bicycle
my tree is heavy with flowers
all roads lead to a fist full of chickens,
for a few dollars more
thailand is a chicken economy

pluck, pluck, pluck
holding the birds over a flame
the remains of fuzz are fried off
a coarse bag is weighed
while another is whacked in half

i turn my borrowed bicycle around
listening to the sandy road speak

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