Please Don’t Buy a Chicken Whole

by Janet I. Buck

It’s resting on some paper towels upon the wooden cutting board,
the plastic bag is sweating with the thawing ice;
I visit it like residents in nursing homes, then walk away,
hoping I’ll collect myself.

Slit the bag and slide the chicken in the sink,
drip diluted blood on the floor,
just leave it there to dry and scab.
The chicken slips out of my hands,
moves around with carelessness,
while I exhume the liver and guts,
shove them quickly in the trash.

Divide the staple on the legs, set them free,
get a grip, grab the kitchen shears and knives,
line them up as if I’m doing surgery.
Remember just two years ago: the nerve block didn’t work.
I wasn’t supposed to feel enough to make a fist,
but clenched my doctor’s crucial thumb
hard enough to wake him up and call for drugs.
Stomp the deepest memories that crawl the floor
as quickly as a cockroach shoots into a crack in the wall.

I tell myself, “Try to find its spine and yours,
remove the ribs and split the breasts.”
Nothing’s yours except the feckless thighs and wings
you’ve memorized from surgery. Feel the slippery skin and fat,
rub your fingers with their oil. Grab it when it tries to fly,
hold it down, and sever joints (your only goal not passing out).
We’ll call it kinds of poultry now, to take the real names away.

My husband says, “It’s just a chicken from the store.” I get his point
but feel an edge. Having 7 joints replaced, well, changes things
I hope he never understands. I stare at marrow in a bone,
since x-rays come in black and white, but life does not.
Don’t expect much sympathy; he’s hungry now,
helps me with his clueless arms by whisking
an egg in a cup of milk; he fills a pie pan full of flour.
What puts a rope around my neck
is the bad, bad habit of thinking too much:
this one little shell of sunish yellow,
slimy stuff that looks like snot, well,
might have been a chicken too, if only we hadn’t stolen it.

Our biggest skillet hits the stove and almost shatters surface glass.
He’s in a hurry to eat; I’m in a rush to puke in the sink. Too much grease
sits in the base; I make him drain the excess off, then put the skillet
back atop the burner’s fire. I say to him: “We’re frying a chicken, not a horse.”
I’m the only one who laughs. Before I dip the body parts into liquid,
pure white powder laced with garlic, sage, and thyme,
and pepper, pepper everywhere—any spice our cupboards hold—
I think about needles and spools of heavy thread and staple guns
(duct tape as a last resort) to fix a surgery I botched.

This litterbox of memories affects my long-lost appetite. “Next time, please:
Do not buy a chicken whole; otherwise, I’ll throw it on an oven rack
(plastic bag, wire clips, and organs you won’t want to touch), then baste
the creature tenderly with butter and bare burning hands,
coax it through its 2nd death.”

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