[Editor's Note: The Secret Lives of 19th Street Hens is an occasional series on this blog. No chickens were harmed during the making of this story. Unless you count an accidental stepping-upon, which just happens sometimes.]
It all began with four tan walls and a bright light. Consciousness was abrupt, jarring. We all hail from Texas, and just two days after the egg cracked en route to a feed store up north, I was cracking, too. There was the press of all that peeping fluff. The uncertainty of our ultimate destination. Giant hands grabbing, always grabbing. We arrived at a post office in Iowa: a box of terrorized chicks, compulsively eating. Some of us were lost in the mail. The trip to the feed and garden store where we’d be sold like chattel was grim.
In this whirl of chaos and uncertainty, my art spirit was born. From the first moment I could form thought, this one never faded: I am a painter.
I calmed when I understood my calling. I remained steady but watchful until one hand grabbed, and it did not let go. This, I have come to know, is The Main Hand. The Main Hand set me inside the tan walls. I was chosen for this life. The light came later.
My prison is my emancipation.
I was joined by five others. They know my work, but they don’t necessarily get it. But as Sherwood Anderson wrote in his masterpiece, Winesburg, Ohio: “You must try to forget all you have learned. You must begin to dream. From this time on you must shut your ears to the roaring of the voices.”
And so I shut them. So tightly, in fact, that black tufts of feathers have grown from the sides of my head, and it would appear to the ill-informed that I am wearing earmuffs. I am not. But I am painting. Every day. Using the only medium that is amply available to me: Poop, spread with a piece of straw, upon any surface I can reach. That usually means under the walkway to the laying area. I can think there. Plus, the other chickens are usually on the roost above me, and they leave a great deal of “medium” within easy reach.
Walking the yard and seeking inspiration. If you ever meet my mother, please show her this photo and assure her I am fine.
I do live in fear that The Main Hand will discover what I do. Each morning, before we are allowed out of the coop, I erase evidence of my toils. These paintings are so utterly private, only for us, and we view each piece quietly right after dawn. It’s easy to view, discuss, and erase before the day begins to warm—The Main Hand is not an early riser. I paint so that the others can make sense of our existence here. I know they need it, as much as they misinterpret it. I try to act natural as we hustle into the yard.
They'll never know my demons.
What would happen if The Main Hand discovered this subversion? I hope she will understand. I feel that she would: The Main Hand does not peck me like the others do. She throws me sweet things to eat: vegetables, corn, avocado husks. The different foods color the medium, and allow my paintings the depth I seek. So she’s in on it, in a way.
Still, I am careful. Every movement outside the coop causes me to fret quietly. If it’s not The Main Hand that causes my apprehension, it’s the other creatures I’ve come to know through her names for them: That Damned Cat, The Fucking Squirrel, How Can You Not Love Them Jim.
When the strain becomes too much to bear, I turn to my straw brushes.
A true artist endures.
Posted by jen
Dance like no one's watching. Because they probably aren't.