Painted Chickens

 

Painted Chickens

Twenty years ago
I received a birthday gift
from a close college buddy-slash-sometime lover
(What on earth were we thinking?).
Back then, our past was already in the past
& twenty-four was already not young.
He gave me a coffee mug
covered in chickens—

yes, painted chickens—

three plump specimens posed around the outside,
& one that looks like an index finger
with an eye, a comb, a beak, & a wattle,
slapped onto the bottom.

How, I can’t fathom,
but my friend knew that those chickens
with their orange-red, expressionistic bodies
would be a boat-floater for me—

the one time I had slept with him
had been an epic shipwreck,
with a silent drive to the airport in its wake;

on the way, we choked down pancakes,
& I stifled sobs in my coffee,
averting my eyes
from the helpless horror in his.
I then flew off into the wild, wide sky,
bewildered, drowning.

Somehow, for years to come,
his southern gentlemanly charms
still served to allure:
he kept his promise to write
& took pains to catalogue for me
the details of his worldly escapades
& various, accompanying sexual conquests,
always making sure to emphasize
the ways in which they were hot for him,
so as to prove those trysts’ relative rightness.

Then, years later, for my birthday,
came the unexplainably gratifying
chicken cup.

Still burning hot
& feathered in their chili-pepper red,
royal purple & verdant green cloaks,
my static & impossibly happy
aphrodisiac chickens
blush like lovers on a Grecian urn;
clucking, urgent.

My southern gent,
now so long ago flown from this callous coop,
wooed another & had his own brood,
as, in due course, did I,
but the mug, no worse for wear, remains
a spectacular feature—
like a bright birthday piñata
(with its promise of sweet reward)—
of my sacred morning ritual.

These chickens,
still ecstatically surprised,
letting out unabashed, open-beaked caterwauls,
adorn my most aged & prized coffee mug;

a vessel, perfectly-sized,
it cups its contents so adoringly,
fiercely,
like an egg enveloping its cache of gold,
as I take privileged sips.

The big chicken on the left
might actually be a rooster,

& that one on the bottom,
a middle finger.

STEPHANIE L. HARPER

“Painted Chickens” appears in my new chapbook, The Death’s-Head’s Testament, scheduled for release in March 2019. If you like what you’ve seen so far, please take advantage of Main Street Rag Publishing Company’s fantastic pre-order sales offer of $6.50 per copy while it lasts, and feel great about your generous support of this enormously grateful poet! 

Place your order HERE today! 

15 thoughts on “Painted Chickens

  1. Oh my – the coloring alone would wake one up – and CHICKENS (even if one’s a rooster)! What a way to shift from lazing in dreamland into daily reality. I stare at my dark mauve mug (unadorned) and wonder how a day begun with vivid chickenry might differ? Would I be more productive? Would I write a poem as perky as this one?
    Love the pinata comparison and the probable interpretation of image appropriately bottomed.
    Reminds me of a long-ago greeting card received a year or so after an intense brief tumble … he wrote at the bottom it made him think of me … its crude image and language the sort I gag over. If I still had that card, I’d spin it into a poem! But it went instantly into the trash, long ago buried in some Florida landfill.
    Here’s to mistakes that shape our boundaries … and give us poems.
    Looking forward to your book’s arrival.

    Liked by 2 people

    • I adore you, Jazz! ❤️

      Unfortunately, my chicken cup finally went the way of wayward tumbles a couple of years ago. I was washing it over the sink, and the mug just separated and slipped off the handle still in my hand. Turns out the thing had been disintegrating (festering?) from the inside…

      Liked by 1 person

      • Was there a post a while back about the handle breaking? When I was reading this poem, I had twitches but not recall about another cup … now coming back to me!
        Doubly impressed if those chickens stirred up TWO poems!
        PS – my copy of Epiphanies and Late Realizations came this afternoon – a beautiful book, and I love your poem about Matthew in the fountain. The one you and Robert co-authored fascinates … puzzling which of you originated which phrases. A delight!

        Liked by 2 people

  2. Ha! Yes, it was the same poem, and I remembered conversing with someone about the cup breaking, but I didn’t realize it was you! Lol!

    Oh, awesome that your copy of the anthology came already! I don’t even have mine yet! Yeah, Bob and I take these collaborations to some pretty visceral places. He tends to be the one to start off with a line or two, and I get to figure out how to make sense of it (it’s not always possible… 😉), and things evolve from there. It’s extremely rewarding, and such an honor that Bob trusts me with this delicate process. ❤️

    Liked by 3 people

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