Read introduction

It was such an uncharacteristically hot day in Scotland, that our thoughts turned to abroad... and we had lunch outside in a wonderful authentic French restaurant in Edinburgh - bringing thoughts of France in particular. This poem is about a burningly hot day in a country place in the south, where we were looking after chickens while the owners were away! The sunflowers in the nearby field always seemed to be looking at us with their great black eyes!

Dedicated to hot summer days - and chickens everywhere!

French Chickens in the Yard

Gillian_ferguson_photo_high_resby Gillian K Ferguson09 Jul 2013

The molten rooster mooches in the burning dust,
testing grassless earth for temperature
with shrunken dragon feet.

Permanently outraged -
sticking out his goitred chin,
puffing copper breast feathers
like a dazzling chest of medals,
where a tiny liquid sun zips.

With a gallus Glasgow swagger,
swanking lordly down the yard -
haughtily conscious
of his magnificent cocked bunch
of peacock-tinctured tail,
following royally behind, like a proud entourage.
Arms folded: a general, inspecting.

Twitching at the constant phantoms
birds are forced to keep an eye on -
one eye at a time.

‘Oooohhh, eeooooohhh’, he moans, lowly
ecstatic. ‘Ooooohhh, eeooooohhh’, again -
charging his crescendo like a motorbike.
Knowing he will climactically crow
up to Heaven at last – reved gullet erupting,
ripping the dusty fabric of summer stillness,
puncturing the startled blue eye
of shocked day universe -
where every morning he rattles
a last few blinking, sleepy stars,
loose animal bones, snoring hearts, for sport.

Into what humans say is, ‘Cock-a-doodle-do’,
the cheek! - as if he had no dignity; or poetry.
Was not chief among his gossiping queens.
Bird nobility -
could not pose right now for Gainsborough,
thus, heroic.

But instead is left spearing pinhead pieces
of nothing, for something to do -
pretending to swallow them.

Massed at the barb-wire fence, a furious crushed army
of owl-eyed sunflowers rudely stare -
yellow satellites live-green-wiring
garnered white heat, violent ultraviolet,
to protesting earth’s mouthful of ash.
Balding her bleached summer hair -
causing her afflicted silver spirit to rise and shimmer.

The steel water bowl is as bright as the Moon.
Cools hissing brass wings, just for a moment.

But the sky - he hardly dare look up again.
To dive into that refrigerator blue…

His wives have learned better:
never break your fluttering heart
raising your head to the impossible.
And they fill their days well enough
with this and that in the yard –
only an applause of flapping gunshot,
slink and reek of bloodthirsty orange fox,
pounces on dreams of proper wings.
But

just for the hell of it,
the melting rooster launches,
uncertain as a bumble-bee -
stumbling in air like a cartoon cliff-man.
Just makes the coop roof -
the mocking sky smiling, flashing
gold teeth - still far away as Heaven.
Loathing his own warty red Mohican crown,
embarrassingly sexy beard -
because this king’s wings won’t fly:
all of them, cripples,
understanding Icarus as well as us.
They have gold and brown and black angels
with discordant, raucous song; gold wattles.

He pretends the roof was his finishing line.
To be seized with ennui – boredly combing
some rogue, inappropriately fluffy feathers.

Gloaming –
I go to see the plumply fed hens are tucked up.
The boiling sunflowers simmer now
in a mercury haze,
still untouchable by dusk.

A rosy bowl of slow pink fires,
burning to a polished gold husk,
the flushed sky pales at last –
feverish evening
soothing into silver night.

Snuffling in the coop’s dim, puffed air -
sloughed down glittering snowily,
I hear those most maternal sounds;
mothering without words or hands.
Unwinding haywire clockwork chicks -
lemon fuzzballs bouncing on pink twigs,
creeping to gold nest, bronze breast -
sleepy-cheepy now; pom-pom fluffed.

Understanding this language, I hurry indoors
to cluck over my baby.