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