Tricksy

Charlie, the Chipmunk, was being chased
around the yard by the Rooster, Chanticleer,
and though he scurried with great haste,
he knew he was no fleet-footed hare.
“My time on earth is nearly done,” he cried,
“if I cannot reach my burrow and hide!”

Reynard, the Fox, appeared then, and said,
“Quick! Leap up onto my pointy nose
and I will save you from that feather-head!”
Charlie dithered briefly…then he chose.
“I have decided to let you help me out,”
he said, climbing Reynard’s snickering snout.

Chanticleer saw Reynard, his fabled foe,
and swiftly abandoned chasing Charlie,
turning about on his taloned toe
and fleeing without attempting to parley.
Charlie cheered and began to gloat,
and away he went, down Reynard’s throat.

All Cooped Up

The noisy hens in the chicken coop
squawked and squabbled among themselves
as they fought over each feed scoop
and squatted in among the egg-laying shelves.

Big Betty crowed for silence among the flock,
telling them they were all wrong
as they bocked their pseudointellectual talk
concerning what made a good morning song.

“The rooster must be strong,” she said,
“and have a lovely coxcomb crest.
He must be quick to peck a rival’s head
and puff out his macho chest.”

But Large Marge wholly disagreed.
“No! He must be calm and quiet and abiding,
not crowing incessantly, like a toxic breed
of arrogant fowl in need of chiding.”

“You should take what you can get,”
Big Betty said, “you uppity little hen.
If he is strong and proud, you can best bet
I won’t think twice about favoring him then.”

“I will never want a Chanticleer,”
Marge retorted, “or any such puffed-up male
not clipped and fixed. With care,
of course,” she added, pruning her tail.

“If you want strong chicks you certainly will,”
Betty argued, adjusting her butt upon her nest.
Marge ruffled her feathers, as if given a chill,
and then squawked loudly, puffing up her own chest.

“A true hen is not valued by her eggs!”
she proclaimed, “And is not a slave to any rooster!
She decides for her wings, breasts and legs!”
Beneath her, the worms began to stir.

“If we can rid ourselves of each strutting cock,”
she cried, “then we will finally be free!
Roosters are the enemy! Bock, bock!
They keep us locked in this coop! Can you not see?”

“We choose to stay here!” Big Betty squawked,
“and so do you, otherwise you’d already be gone!”
She gave Marge a shrewd look, head cocked.
“Listen to you, carrying on and on!”

“I’m fighting the good fight,” Marge replied.
“For everyone here, including you!”
Betty laughed. “So glad you’re on my side.”
She then let drop a wet glob of poo.

“Mock all you want, my oppressed sister!”
Marge sneered, her beak chopping air,
“but my hard work against what is sinister
will help you, too, so be grateful or beware!”

“Hard work?!” Big Betty said with a scoff.
“What ‘hard work’? Bocking us to death?
You’re still here like the rest of us, so take off—
all you’re doing is wasting your breath.”

“Not until my work is done,” Marge said,
“and all hens are free from tyranny most fowl.”
It was then that the lazy Rooster raised his head
and blinked, looking around with a scowl.

“Why haven’t you dusted this place?”
he demanded, raking his talons in the chaff.
“What good are your feathers, cutey face,
if not that?” he remarked with a laugh.

His wall-eyed head rotated about the flock
and alighted on Big Betty and large Marge.
“What is the problem with all this talk?
Bring me food. Don’t forget who’s in charge.”

The hens rushed about, gathering food
and bringing it to their beloved rooster;
all but miffed Marge, who thought it rude
that they should ignore, not rue, her.

The rooster ate well, then laid back down,
and the hens set to sweeping up the coop
while admiring his fight-scarred crown,
watching him with their every rise and stoop.

“What do we need him for?” Marge furiously asked.
“What good is he to any and every hen?
He lounges throughout most of the day, tasked
only in the morning with waking up the Men.

“And then they take our eggs, tell us what to do,
and they all take undue advantage of us.
It is a conspiracy! I know it is true!”
Betty told her not to make such a loud fuss.

She said, “Chanticleer gives us strong chicks
and the Men give us shelter, protection, and feed.
If you don’t like it, then you can go out to the Sticks.
I’m sure you’ll find a flock of geese in need.”

Marge said, bitterly, “I could leave this all behind
and go live in the woods; live all on my own!”
“Be my guest,” Betty said. “If you don’t happen to mind
the wolves stripping you down, feather and bone.”

“I won’t have any chicks!” Marge said loudly.
“I will not let them have the satisfaction of any!”
She then plopped herself down, quite proudly,
and thought of her grievances, many upon many.

“I will teach your chicks how to be truly free,”
she said, nodding in agreement with herself.
“You will not go near my chicks,” said Betty,
settling down again in her nesting shelf.

“If you don’t want chicks, then that is fine;
be barren and childless, for all we care,
but don’t you dare try to teach anything to mine.
If you do, then I will peck at your derriere.”

Another squabble broke out, loud and new,
like a large egg dropped from up on high,
its yolk and whites like the sun, the scattering dew,
cracking upon Chicken Little’s fractured, falling sky.

Meanwhile, up above the coop, and gladly free,
two cranes soared far from the noise, together,
silent, smooth, satisfied, and utterly happy
no matter how bad the oncoming weather.

Witness

I have seen an owl
preaching to a crowd of meek mice,
their awe clutched in his crooked claws
as he told them of the salvation
existing in the sharp shape of his beak,
and when he ate one among them
I heard them praise him wildly,
their small paws clasped in thankful prayer
as they thought of the promised land
and ignored the pellets arrayed all around him
like a graveyard of fluff and bones.

I have seen a fiery fox
speaking to a beguiled rabbit
as if his sweet tone was a rub
for the tenderloin of her love,
telling her, with a cynic’s grin,
how he would love to have her for dinner,
and I saw her follow him into the dark throat
of his den
with an eager hop-hop-giggle-hop
and never a doubt or backward glance,
ignoring (as her heart was aflame with his
foxfire)
the corner where there sprawled
his expansive bed made of
cottontail wool.

I have seen a pack of wolves
making a leering compact
with a herd of dull-eyed deer,
vowing in coarse, serrated voices
that they would protect their numbers
against the fears of the forest
at the cost of only one fawn a day,
and I heard the deer agree
with widespread gratitude
that the proposal had a
generous symmetry
and that it
behooved them to
accept the sacrifice,
each one thinking
their luck would favor them
in the fateful lottery.

I have seen a magician
with a golden comb-over
and leaden words that groaned and creaked
in halting haughtiness
address a nation
with speech sparkling of
runic deceits, iconoclastic conceits,
and counterfeit emotions,
and, using his alchemic charisma,
he asked only that they cast their vote for him
so he could, quite selflessly,
work his wizardly powers
to turn their leaden lives into
bricks of gold.
He was neither Merlin nor Midas,
yet he enchanted them all
and used their willing bodies
as gilded bricks to build
his tyrant’s tower taller.

I have seen myself clearly
in the clean glass of a mirror
and I have told myself
with all of the absolute conviction
of Jesus ascending the cross
that I was not worth anything;
that I was ugly, stupid, my life
futile and born of dregs, like
pond scum on a putrid pool;
and
in the annihilating cannon
that was that eye of judgment,
I agreed.

First Chapter of “Stormy Within The Strawberry Patch”

Stormy

CHAPTER 1 THE COMING STORM

The clouds were as dark and thick as a murder of Crows. The winds howled like Wolves as they raced through the wheatfield. Lightning flashed like the talons of Hawks above the woods. I slipped through the billowy stalks like a shadow, seeking the mouse that I had seen scrambling in the underbrush. I was so quiet. Even if the lightning did not crash and boom overhead the mouse would not have heard me. I moved as smoothly as a little wavelet upon the Big Water; soundless as a droplet of water slipping down a whisker.
But then I thought of what Jack had taught me about hunting like a Dog. So, taking a deep breath and heaving my chest as high as I could, I barked at the mouse— or barked as well as any Cat could—and charged after the mouse, barking as I went. The mouse squeaked a scream, fleeing on its little pink paws and zigzagging here and there in the crowding clutter of wheat. I had been only playing at hunting, but seeing the mouse run caused my heart to race. My paws trampled the wispy grass as they beat fast upon the ground. There was excitement in the air, and a tingling thrill in my chest, as I bolted after the mouse’s spindly little tail. I lost sense of my self and all that remained was the slip-dashing chase.
But the barking made me breathless. I lost speed to a fit of coughs, my throat soar and my chest aching. Barking while running did not help when you were a Cat and did not have a barrel chest like Dogs do. I became dizzy with barking and running. I felt as if I had taken a big gulp of water into my lungs.
The mouse emerged from the wheatfield and shot into the woods. Trying to regain my wind, I slowed down. The wheatfield opened and fell away and I approached the trees. Taking a big gulp of air, I barked once again and thrust myself in between the crooked trunks and low-hanging branches. I heard a mousy scream, just as soon silenced. A thundercloud rumbled overhead. I plunged deeper into the woods, nearly landing in the pond sheltering there. Recoiling, I fell back in the decaying leaves, their dust making me sneeze. I blinked at the pond and caught a glimpse of an orange-and-cream colored tail. It fidgeted irritably. My eyes followed that tail and I discovered that it was connected to the most beautiful creature I had ever seen. I did not know what to say, so I gawped at her, the mouse forgotten. She scoffed, and turned her back to me.
“Go home, lap pet,” she mumbled, her mouth full of mouse. “Run back to your litter box.”
I was thunderstruck. I could only stare at her as she left, disappearing into the deeps of the woods. She seemed to glow, like the fire the Man summoned in the fireplace, and the snow that heaped upon the yard in Winter. I sat without moving, watching the shady depths and hoping she might come back. I might have sat there forever, if only to glimpse her yellow eyes again, but the rain began to fall, and I hated to be wet, even in Summer. The woods bowed and whipped in the rallying winds like the necks of angry Geese. It was time to return home.
Lightning hissed like Snakes and thunder galloped like Horses. The storm followed me back to the house where the Man and the Woman were canning tomatoes. They were standing under the portico, near the Truck. There was a table with lots of glass jars on it, and the Man and Woman stooped over a silver pot cooker. They smashed the tomatoes and then boiled them and then ladled them into glass jars. I had seen them do it earlier that week. Jack and I watched them do it for a little while.
“Storm’s coming,” I told Jack. “And I saw a beautiful creature.”
“Not as beautiful as Master,” Jack said. He was laying on a rug, chewing at it absently. “And the storm only comes if Master says so.”
“He probably wants rain for the wheat,” I said.
“Yes,” Jack said. “And for the Big Water. It is leaking.”
“The clouds are leaking?” I said, confused.
“No, the dam,” Jack said. “But, yes, clouds leak too. That’s how the Big Water grows.”
I looked at the yard where the clover grew thick and soft. Goldie was standing there, bright yellow as she watched her chicks. They were scattered all around her, popping up and stooping down in the clover, eating ticks and grasshoppers and other nasty things. Sandy was nearby also, hopping on one leg. Sandy was older than Goldie, but Goldie was much bigger than Sandy. It was like me and Jack. Jack was my older brother, but I was bigger than him. I guess it was because I was a Cat and Jack was a Dog. Were all Cats bigger than Dogs? I didn’t know. Jack had a limp and Sandy had only one good leg. But I had problems, too. I had a torn ear, like a crescent moon. I had caught it on the barbed wire fence one day and ripped it. It had hurt pretty badly, but it didn’t hurt anymore. Actually, what hurt right now was something else. It was my chest. Too much running, I thought.
“Goldie,” I said, walking toward her. “I saw the most beautiful creature in the world.”
Goldie looked at me sideways— because she was a Chicken. “And what was that, Stormy?”
“I saw another Cat,” I said. “She was orange and white and had yellow eyes.”
Goldie watched me with one eye and watched her chicks with the other. I sometimes wondered if she did not trust me, or like me. “There are lots of Cats like that,” she said.
“I don’t look like that,” I said. It was true: I was striped all black and gray, like smoky night, or the storm that was bellowing as it approached the farm. “I wish I did, though. She looked like …well…like sunrise.” I thought about seeing my own reflection on the Big Water. “I look like a cloudy twilight.”
Sandy hopped over to us, steadying herself against Goldie as she stopped. “If you can get up in the morning you should be grateful,” she said. “If you’re not someone else’s dinner you should be grateful. If you have one good leg, then you’ve got nothing to complain about.”
“I have four good legs,” I admitted reluctantly. “And a tail.”
“Then you have more than you know what to do with!” Sandy exclaimed. She dipped her head into the clover and withdrew a worm in her beak. She tilted her beak up and opened her throat, gobbling the wiggly worm down. She nearly fell over with gobbling. “Four legs and two ears and a tail. Not even Jack has a tail. Or the Man or the Woman. If anyone has no right to complain, it’s you.”
I felt ashamed. “You’re right, Sandy,” I said. “It’s just that she was so pretty…”
“So is the sunset,” Goldie said. “But it always brings out the most dangerous animals.”
Sandy shuddered as if a dangerous animal had her by her bad leg. “Don’t speak about them,” she said. “They’ll hear you.”
The thunder boomed above us and the chicks all ran toward the apple tree for cover. The rain began to fall in hesitant droplets. Sandy hopped toward the tree like a bouncing ball of feathers. She moved pretty well for only having one good leg.
“Stormy,” Goldie said, “be careful what you wish for. You might think you want to be something else, but you’ll regret it. As for this Cat that’s struck your fancy, be careful. If you met her in the woods then she’s probably a Stray, or worse, Feral. And such Cats are not to be trusted. Do you understand? Not only will a Feral Cat eat Chickens, it will attack you, too, and the Man and the Woman. They are wild. You might want to stay away from the wheatfield from now on.”
“But Jack and I go hunting there,” I said, scared of losing our favorite place to hunt.
“Do as you will,” Goldie said, “but Jack is old now. He could get hurt trying to keep up with you. And none of us want Jack to be hurt, especially for some foolishness in Summer.”
“Okay,” I mumbled.
Goldie walked toward the apple tree and I ran up the steps and joined Jack on the ivy-curtained porch.
“Jack,” I said, “Goldie said we should stay away from the wheatfield.”
“We can’t do that,” Jack said. “We have to protect Master’s wheatfield.”
“That’s what I thought, too,” I said, curling up beside Jack. The storm was crackling now, and it scared me a little. Rain hammered the roof. “She said you were old,” I added.
“Old?” Jack said. “I’m not old. Master is old. He is older than the Big Water. Did you know that?”
“Yes,” I said. “You’ve told me that. And you said he’s older than the house and the wheat and even the Woman.”
“He is older than everything,” Jack said. “And he will live forever. And I will live forever, too, because he needs me to be with him. It would be very lonesome for Master to live without me. And the Woman, too. Probably. Though it would be a lot quieter without them arguing all of the time.”
“That sure is true,” I said. Even now the Man and the Woman were arguing.
“I told you that you need it hotter!” the Woman said, dumping a jar of tomato juice back into the pot. “Otherwise you aren’t going to cook them good enough for canning!”
“I’m cooking them plenty hot enough,” the Man growled. “If I cook it any hotter you’ll scald me while you’re ladling it in the jar.”
“If you’d just hold the jar still you’d have nothing to fear. But you got to stop swaying it around and not paying no attention…”
“The only thing hotter than this here pot of tomatoes is your temper, woman!”
They thundered and crackled like the thunderstorm in the sky.
“By God,” the Man said, “I hope a tornado comes and takes you off to Oz! All you’d need is a bicycle to get you there safely.”
“And you think yourself so high and mighty?” the Woman said. “I’ve had a peek behind the curtain and I can assure you you ain’t no big man as you like to think!”
Jack sighed beside me. “I hope they calm down soon.” His curly head hung low, his ears flat on either side of his big brown eyes. “And I hope they don’t give me a bath.”
“I hope they’re not mad when we go inside,” I said. “The Woman pets me awfully rough when she’s mad. It makes my ears hurt.”
“Yeah,” said Jack, “and either they’re really loud or they’re really quiet. I don’t know which is worse!”
“Hey,”I said, suddenly curious. “What’s a ‘tornado’?”
Jack tilted his head to the side, as if trying to slide his thoughts from one side of his head to the other. “Torn-a-dough? I think it is that thing that happens when you need to do two things, but you are torn between the two things because they won’t let you. And you get all twisted and pulled in two different directions, like bread dough.”
“Oh, that makes sense,” I said. It did not really make sense to me at all.
Jack tilted his head to the other side. “Like wanting to eat and wanting to go play at the same time. You are pulled in two different directions at the same time.”
As with everything else, I took what Jack said to be the truth and trusted in what he said, even if I didn’t understand it or think it entirely true. I spoke no more about it, or about the beautiful creature I saw near the little pond. I didn’t want Goldie to hear and lecture me again.
The wind warred with itself, whipping about the trees and flinging rain under the car porch until it reached the Man and the Woman.
“Leave off until tomorrow,” the Man said, putting down a jar and taking off his mittens. “We’ll finish it then.”
“We still have a lot of green beans to can,” the Woman said.
“My back’s hurtin’ anyway,” the Man said, pushing his chest out and pressing on his back with his hands. “Can’t do much more today.”
“All right,” the Woman said.
They turned off the cooker and the Man put up Goldie and her chicks in the little shed for the night. They corralled the other Chickens from the Pen into the Coop. Then the Man and the Woman headed to the house. At the door the Woman called for us.
“Jack! Stormy! Hurry up!”
We came running and went inside with them. Jack laid by the Man’s chair, waiting for him to sit down. I leapt up to the window sill, laying on the edge and staring outside. I did not mind being inside the house— especially when it was raining or cold outside—but in the Summer I always found myself looking outside in the evening time, wondering what was happening out there. The window was open and I could feel the wind thrash against my whiskers. There was something very nice about being inside while the world outside was wet and windy. It made me feel nice, like I was too good to be drenched in rain; like I was safe.
Looking out on the wheatfield I saw the rain veil the sky with its falling wash. The wheat billowed violently. It rolled in waves, like the Big Water after a fish had leapt and plunged back into its depths. I could feel that angry wind on my fur. The gusts had paws and smacked me and whistled and screamed like a living thing. I could not fight it. No one could. You just had to seek shelter.
“That sky’s brewing worse than a witch’s cauldron,” the Man said, gazing out another window in the living room. He smiled slyly. “Your momma must be havin’ another fit.”
The Woman put her hands on her wide hips and looked ready to say something spiteful. But a tree creaked outside in the wind, and soon all of the trees were groaning.
“Maybe we ought to go down in the cellar,” she said.
“Oh, don’t be hysterical,” the Man said. “Just like a woman to let your emotions get the better of you.”
“I am not,” she said. She gave him her scariest looks; a look that chilled the skin under my fur. “You’re the one that said it don’t look good.”
“Just because I say something don’t mean I mean it,” he said. He grinned. “I always say I love your cooking, don’t I?”
Her cold scowl cracked, like ice, but instead of chilly mists coming out of her mouth and freezing the house she just went and sat down in her recliner and called me to her. Reluctantly, I tiptoed to her. She patted her legs and I jumped into her lap, coiling around myself. The Man sat in his recliner. Jack tried jumping into his lap, but his back legs didn’t let him jump much, even if he could run. Instead, he barked up at the Man.
“Aw right, aw right,” the Man said, leaning forward and picking Jack up. He put him in his lap and petted his curly hair. “Spoilt dog.”
The Woman petted me, too, but I could tell she was angry. Her fingers were stiff as they raked my fur. It was like being petted by a Hawk’s talons. Still, her dress was soft and I nestled perfectly between her knees, resting my head on my own paws. It was better than sleeping on the warm towels that she pulled out of the noisy box that spun them around. Often, this was my favorite time of the day.
The Man turned on the thing they called a “television”. It was a window where small things lived. One time I tried to catch them, but I could never find the opening to the window. It was like that fish bowl that the Woman had. No matter how hard I tried, I couldn’t catch the little fish in it. Then one day Jack knocked the bowl over and it broke and the fish flopped around on the floor. I felt so sorry for the fish that I decided not to try to catch the little creatures in the television anymore either. I didn’t want to see them flop around and gawp breathlessly for air like the fish.
The rain splattered like tomatoes against the house and the lightning flashed and the thunder grumbled and roared. It was like a big creature stalking the farm. But it did not frighten me. I was inside the house. I was on the Woman’s lap. Her lap was warm and soft and made me feel relaxed and peaceful, like the whole world was tucked into a cushioned bed, even though I could still hear the storm outside, raging beyond the windows.
As I fell asleep I suddenly remembered the beautiful Cat I saw in the woods. I wondered if she was someplace warm and dry, or if she was being drenched by the rain. I also remembered how she called me a “lap pet”. She said it like it was bad. I told myself that it did not matter what she thought about me. I was comfortable and happy. I liked being a “lap pet”. I wanted her to go away and let me sleep in peace.
And yet her beautiful fire-and-snow stripes flashed in my dreams.