Red in Tooth and Claw
The old man hobbled to the chicken coop
And grabbed each drowsy hen, held down her wings,
And told the boy to dab the legs with goop.
The scaly leg mites maimed the wretched things,
To the extent that one had stubs for toes,
Which, like felt pens, wrote exclamation marks
Across his arm, as if to mark who-knows-
What poultrese lamentations (πᾶσα σὰρξ
ὡς χόρτος* maybe—it was Greek to him).
The hens were red in claw; the mites, in tooth.
The situation for the birds was grim.
Though far out-classed in weight, to tell the truth,
The odds were with the mites. This sort thing,
This carnage, it was said had been devised
Because of Adam’s sin. This had the ring
Of truth, though what the chickens’ role comprised
In this, he really wasn’t sure. The lad
Paused after slathering another bird,
And with a probing look he said, “Grandad,
Are chickens dinosaurs?” The homespun man,
Taken aback, replied, “Who told you that?”
(In fact, he thought to buy himself some time
By this red herring.) “Mrs. Montserrat,”
The child confessed. This modern paradigm
Was not so foreign to the farmer. He
Had often wondered, when he butchered deer,
If there weren’t something to homology
(That word he didn’t use). But there was fear
(That, too, he didn’t use) in certain thoughts.
His preacher felt so strongly, you would think
That “devil” stood for “Darwin’s evil plots.”
He stopped and gave the boy a knowing wink.
“What if they are?”—His grandson thought a while,
“Maybe T. rex got scaly leg mites, too.”
The old grandfather cracked a little smile—
Both for the precious conversation, true,
But also for the image brought to mind,
And for the thoughts he now could leave behind.
[*pasa sarx hōs chortos—“all flesh is like grass”]
Editor’s Note: This delightful narrative poem (with effortless meter) is chock full of excellent imagery, thoughtful allusion, and a reminder of the joy to be had in one of life’s ordinary moments.
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