Once all pomp and strut
and splendid crown,
you ruled the yard
like a petty chieftain.
At your approach
every dust-colored hen
genuflected. Your stiff comb
fluttered little hearts and eyelids.
Your fierce eye
squelched doubt and quelled insurrection.
As long as hawks’ shadows swept the ground
and cats and weasels skulked
in every hayloft and wood pile,
the old bargain held—
you manned your post
like a little soldier,
never backing down
from any sharp-toothed invader who strayed
into your domain,
then went home stiff and proud
to your perch at the top of the roost.

Then something happened.
Your stiff-necked, head-jabbing strut
evoked only titters.
Your blood-colored, swollen crown
seemed an embarrassment, almost.
Behind your back
the hens mocked
your stridency
and from the safety of the yard
issued sniggering dissertations
on your conduct.

Now thoroughly excoriated
for your shameful record
and plucked
of prerogatives, you sulk
in your pen like Achilles,
grimly eyeing the new regime
of stacked cages and rolling belts
in which your former mates
(now strict constructivists
to a hen) rehearse the old complaints
to maintain discipline
and status in
the new hierarchy
of blame,

though sometimes when,
as in a dream,
dark shadows sweep the ground
and blot that perfect horizon
they might allow
you to sharpen spur and beak
and, for a term,
put on your antique habit
of protection.

Paul Lake

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