Our neighbours across the street have hens. Last week they gave us a present of six freshly-laid eggs.
I confess I’m envious … I have precious memories of going to the chookyard to collect eggs with my grandparents at their property on the Darling Downs, and when my parents moved to an eight and a half acre block on the outskirts of Toowoomba in 1963, we had chooks there, too.
Of course, these 2019 fowls aren’t ordinary chooks, like the standard russet browns and stolid whites from my childhood. They are so finely feathered they could go to the Opera, or a Ball – all gleaming with iridescent greens and flashing fluffy muffs.
Their eggs aren’t ordinary either. They deserve a poem – and perhaps one day I’ll manage that. In the meantime, thanks to Robbie’s and Kate’s present of eggs, I’ve been reminded of a poem I wrote long ago, about our Toowoomba chooks.
Here it is:
COLLECTING THE EGGS
Corkscrewing through chickenwire, the passion-
fruit vine shades this yard with flat,
green feet. Leaves of chokos too
clamber around, dangling their globes,
prickly and sappy.
On the ground: scraps. Potato skin
like a scraping from a freckled arm.
Pumpkin peel. Star-cores of apples
and limp, suede slippers from bananas.
The chooks mince through it,
pointing their claws,
pecking at the air behind us as we pass
drawn on to the daily harvest of their dry,
hay-in-a-box nests. Under a low roof:
their roosts, where sun
stirs the dust like fog.
There in the semi-dark confusion, a rooster
leapt at me once with stiletto toes.
Frightened of being the family sook,
afterwards through the memory of his fury
I walk on eggshells, searching
amid the stray feathers and shivery straw
for something warm and calm, porcelain-fine,
shaped just to fit the curve of a palm.
Goannas and snakes covet this too –
sidle under the wire or through
the inexplicably unclosed gate
– twice too a fox (two-legged,
we speculate – it is almost Christmas).
The hens like jilted brides
flap their helpless, lipsticked combs
– glare at the robbers and squawk,
sublimating on a snack
of carrot confetti.
This was a house
we could always enter with hope. Even a return
past the lemon tree and the lime, the Cape Chestnut
and the cypress pines with just one
brown egg in a hand
was good news my father with half a lung
could still deliver
when anything else squeezed out
too much of his breath. In the kitchen,
then, each petrified teardrop was smoothed,
marked with the date: this record of a day
just like any other – but special, recording
each step into the fog
– and out again
each moment passing
through sunlight splashing – on us, on the garden
and on the vine of passionfruit, not yet wrinkled-
ripe, still clutching into shadows
its future, midnight eggs.