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Much farther back than you or I, or anyone can know,
When animals, and fish, and birds could talk,
There lived, that ancient, now-uncounted century ago,
A mother hen, her children, and a hawk.

The hawk was tall and regal, and the timid mother hen
So envied how this raptor took the air,
His wings would brush an arc across the sky from end to end –
Such flight! A thing the hen would never dare!

And oh, how he was handsome! And she stared, as he would preen,
And stand and spread his wings for all to see…
The hen, although she never quite got all her children clean,
Imagined them as glorious as he!

One summer day, the hen received a birthday invitation –
The chicks across the yard were turning one!
Their mother was renowned for using any celebration
To dress up rich and fancy, just for fun.

The hen began to fret. Her chicks were circling round her feet –
They didn’t often go so far from home,
So this was very special. And to get them extra neat,
She’d have to ask the hawk… to lend his comb.

A very special comb. The hawk, the handsomest of birds,
Could barely choose between his comb, and food.
The hen got up her courage, and she barely found the words,
But asked if she could use it on her brood.

“Take care,” replied the haughty hawk, “that it will be returned.
It won’t go well, if I should find it lost.”
He looked at her with predatory eyes that nearly burned,
And added, “Bring it back, or there’s… a cost.”

She got to work, and soon her chicks
Were handsomer than ever.
The comb could do the neatest tricks
…they looked so sweet, and clever,
She wished that she could keep the comb forever!

She didn’t put it down; it stayed
In one hand, or the other;
She gave the girls a special braid,
A cockscomb to their brother –
And felt like such a perfect, doting mother!

And then – the comb! It wasn’t in her hand!
She must have dropped it somewhere, in the sand!

And suddenly she found her glowing confidence… diminished.
The hawk came by just then, of course, to see if she had finished.
Oh, this was not at all what she had planned!
He stood there for a moment, in the blazing summer sun.
She snapped her head away, and clucked, and shook.
And then he cleared his throat, and crossed his wings. “So? Are you done?”
And gave the chicks a strange, admiring look.

“I have to say,” he said, “you said you wanted them to shine,
And, oh! I think that each of them’s a winner!
I don’t have any children – how I wish that they were… mine!
It’s sweet, how much you’ve dressed them up… for dinner.”

She snapped her head first left, then right, to feign the casual air
That hens can have, when gossiping together,
And clucked an answer: “Oh, not yet. The comb is just right there,
I saw an end was splitting, on this feather,

“I put the comb aside for just a bit. You’ll have it back…”
She fidgeted and fiddled with a quill,
“In just a min…” He cleared his throat again. Her knees went slack.
The barnyard suddenly was deathly still.

“I have to go off hunting,” said the hawk. “It’s time to eat.
I never know how long I’ll be away.
And if – oh never mind, your chicks are such a lovely… treat.
And growing! Tell me, how much do they weigh?”

And then he made a horrid sound:
A screech. It terrified her!
She turned and scratched the empty ground,
And felt a woe betide her…
She cackled, and her stomach shook inside her.

He beat his wings, and off he flew.
She sent away her chicks,
And called to ev’ry hen she knew,
To search through leaves and sticks,
And upend ev’ry stone with pecks and picks,

Until they’d found the wretched raptor’s comb,
So she could bring her children safely home.

But no one found it. Later on that evening, back he came,
Still hungry – he’d been circling empty-handed, hunting game,
And now he needed somebody to blame.
“I’ll have my comb!” he screeched at her, “my darling, barnyard biddy!
You haven’t lost it, have you? Surely not!
And who on EARTH are all these other chickens? Hey! She’s pretty!
Hello! …How many children have YOU got?”

The hens began to scatter like they all had lost their heads,
And pecked at anything that they could see.
They only wished to tuck their children safely in their beds,
And safe from such a horrid bird as he.

 

The story didn’t end that day. The high and mighty hawk
Would not relent until his comb was found.
It never was. And even now, when chickens take a walk,
They worry, and they peck, and scratch the ground,
And make a constant keening, mournful sound,
And rush to find their children when a hawk is circling ’round.

 

– Nyack, NY.  July 2012

 

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