Laura Lee Beasley on “The Hen’s Secret”
The idea for my poem "The Hen's Secret" first came from a project I completed in elementary school to study ancient Egypt. Our fifth-grade class coated raw chickens in salt, oil, and herbs, and then wrapped them in gauze. We buried the chickens in a side yard of our elementary school, closed up in shoe-box sarcophaguses we'd decorated with glitter.
I'm working now on a collection of poems centered on Charles Darwin and his wife Emma. Darwin was always collecting specimens to dissect and help him better understand the world. Like Darwin, my grandparents, high school art teachers, had a collection of specimens they called simply "things to paint." They kept locusts and monarch butterflies in plastic magnifying boxes. On a windowsill, they kept “the supplicating frogs,” a pair of frogs found dried behind an air conditioning unit, their webbed front feet clasped at their chests as if in prayer.
My poem is a sort of set of instructions, instructions to place the chicken's heart on your tongue. I like to think about this in terms of our connections with the natural world. These connections can bring us a sense of understanding, but this is always somewhat at odds with how, in the process, we can damage and take from nature. This mirrors, I think, the complicated relationships artists have with their subject matter. I try to figure this out a little bit in my poem.