The Cabbage of Illumination

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Animated_cabbage

Chicken tetherball (GIF)

Chickens peck at the cool, fresh globe
stabbed by an eyescrew, hung by a chain,

heads bobbing with each playful bite
as they bat the food-toy one to the next,

back and forth, back and forth, and
I stand, a child in the museum foyer,

hypnotized watching a hundred-pound ball
knock down pegs as it swings in easy

rotation—or rather, as its path stays fixed
and the earth spins beneath—

back and forth, back and forth, and
every few minutes, the sound—click—

of Foucault’s proof. Today I muse
Did the French devise tetherball too?


I recently took a (free) poetry on Coursera, Sharpened Visions, taught by Douglas Kearney from the MFA program at the California Institute of Arts. It was a 6-week class that covered the basics of writing poetry and offered several assignments for practice. (If you’re interested, the next round starts September 12, 2016.)

As a fairly experienced poet, I found the course a good refresher, and I even took away a few new terms (synecdoche, metonymy). The sample poems studied were fresher than one often finds in an introductory level poetry class, which offered a chance to meet some new voices. I’d also note the instructor has an amusing (to me) sense of humor and the production quality of the videos is high relative to other online courses I’ve taken.

Week 2 of the class focused on image (things you can literally touch/taste/see/hear/smell) and abstraction (things for which we have symbols, e.g., a heart for love). One of the fun assignments was to make up a title in the format “The [Concrete noun] of [Abstract noun],” then write that poem.

Thus, I present “The Cabbage of Illumination.”

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Day 18 #NPM15 – Two vowels/Two fowls

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black hens preen

beaks make feathers gleam

each hen a queen

Margaret and Anne preening

Margaret and Anne preening

 

Check out that twisty neck and whitish eyelid

Check out that twisty neck and whitish eyelid

When chickens preen they take oil from the urophygial gland near the base of the tail and distribute it throughout their feathers. Preening cleans the feathers and the oil keeps the feather “filaments” (that’s probably not the right word) together and improves the feathers’ insulation and waterproof properties. When the oil gets “stale,” the chickens dustbathe to get it off; then they preen with fresh oil. (I don’t mean to sound like it is an infrequent activity—chickens actually spend a fair amount of the day preening.)

Also kind of interesting, preening tends to take place as a group activity. From an evolutionary standpoint, it is probably safer to have the whole flock preen together; that way at any one time some chicken’s eye is watching for predators. With our little flock, only two at the moment, they have demonstrated a preference to be under a bush while preening—also a safety instinct, I would guess.

The whitish eyelid you see in the second picture (it’s on Anne) is the nictitating membrane—sort of an extra eyelid. My understanding is that chickens use it kind of as PPE (personal protective equipment). You tend to see it when they are dustbathing (presumably to keep the dust out of their eyes) or when they are preening (I suppose to avoid poking themselves with a feather as they’re digging in). They use a different eyelid (the lower one) when sleeping. The top eyelid apparently doesn’t move much.

BTW today’s poetry prompt was to write a poem using only two vowels (a and e in this case). Not a very good poem, but it was fun to get pix of the preening.

Day 17 #NPM15 – Wonderful treats for little wonders everywhere

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Want to make someone giggle on command?
I had a huge crush on gymnast Nadia Comaneci.

Vinyl records are definitely worth celebrating.
Their field of vision wraps nearly all the way around their head!

The train was still going full speed when their conversation became louder.
If this pic doesn’t scream, we don’t know what does.

When even Daleks think you’re a monster, you might have a problem.
When did we become a therapy society?

Why did the chicken cross the road?
#dragonslovetacos (at least 48 grams recommended daily).

Yes, there is an American bias in the Hugo awards.
Technique tip: Use kitchen scissors to easily cut.

I never thought I’d write a science poem.
Fantastic! Thank you so much for your hard work today!

I’m doing things and stuff in the real world over the weekend.
Supervillains have no respect for anyone’s schedule.

I warned you this prompt was a little strange.

***

Today’s prompt came from napowrimo.net: Write a “social media”-style poem. Namecheck all of your friends. Quote from their texts, tweets, FB status updates, twitter accounts, and blogposts, and the back of the cereal box on your breakfast table.

Well, I quoted from Twitter and blog posts and the back of the cereal box on my breakfast table. Skipped the namechecking though. (Let me know if you really WANT to be namechecked.)

Bonus points if you can name the cereal…

Day 16 #NPM15 – Ode to my Gallus gallus domesticus

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Oh, my dear Gallus gallus domesticus,
I remember your hatching—a precocial chick—
then those months as a pullet before you
matured into a hen. I want you to know
I’ve never cared about your TBC1D1 gene,
but I sure do appreciate that TSHR switch.
Operant conditioning? Couldn’t manage you
without it. I’m impressed with your beak’s
somatic sensory nerve cells.
And your 31 vocalizations—I might not
recognize them all, but I do know
INTRUDER ALERT! INTRUDER ALERT!
BEHOLD! I HAVE OVULATED! and
MONOTONY! TEDIUM! ENNUI!!!
Yes, my Gallus gallus domesticus,
I am grateful to your red junglefowl progenitor,
but ever so glad you can’t aviate as well.

Margaret and Daffodil

Margaret and Daffodil

***

Today’s prompt came from Poetic Asides: write a science poem. As I am taking Coursera’s course “Chicken Behaviour and Welfare” aka #chickenmooc, I thought I would apply my Week 1 learnings.

And now, once again, in English…

***

Ode to my Chicken

Oh, my dear chicken,
I remember your hatching—a hungry little fluffball—
then those months as a teenager before you
bloomed into a hen. I want you to know
I’ve never cared if you get big (we don’t plan to eat you),
but I sure do appreciate your eggs all winter.
Scratch is your favorite food—gets you back in the coop
every time. I’m impressed how your beak can pick up
oatmeal dust from the pavement.
And your 31 funny noises—I might not
recognize them all, but I do know
ALARM! ALARM! ALARM! ALARM! ALARM!
LOOK AT ME! I LAID AN EGG! and
BORED! BORRRR-ING! BORED!!!
Yes, my dear chicken,
I am grateful to your red junglefowl ancestor,
but ever so glad you can’t fly as well.

Day 11 #NPM15 – Basic training

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Green rank and file

in ragged formation—

tomato seedlings.

Tomato seedlings and two chickens

Tomato seedlings and two chickens

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Today’s prompt for a season poem came from Poetic Asides. As you can tell, we are moving into tomato season! The seeds start out in little containers under lights in the garage. When they get big enough and the weather gets nice enough, they come outside to harden off before moving into bigger pots and eventually (some of them) into the ground. (Anne, right, and Margaret are on their way to the herb garden for a little dust bath. The love to loll in the warm dirt.)

Day 6 #NPM15 – Aubade

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In the morning, when the small birds
have been chirping for hours
and it’s been light, not just gray,
for twenty, thirty minutes, I know
the hens are whining to come down
from the long night in the roost.
I pour my coffee, cinch my robe, and wrestle
the cranky garage door so I can pad
to the coop in my ripped felt clogs.
The dopes tumble down the ramp
or jump from the nest box when I let them
(it’s an adventure). They take a bite
of pellets on the way out the door
and eat weeds between stretches and flaps.
Suddenly they remember the water jar
and race to be first to scoop and swallow

chuss-chuss-chuss
kiss-kiss-kiss

then it’s off to the garden.
They are so happy to start the day,
to slake their thirst and dig right in.
***

I used the Day 6 prompt from NaPoWriMo.net, which was to write an aubade, a morning poem. And yes I actually wrote it yesterday, just was too tired to post it online by the time I had a draft. 🙂

Day 4 #NPM15 – Celebration

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Chicken choir sings

Behold the miracle of the day—

Easter eggs!

Yes, chickens like to brag on their egg-laying prowess. “See what I have made!” (That one is not ours. I think ours might even be louder. Just imagine the cacophony when they all join in to praise their sister hen.)

I hope you’re all having a nice Sunday, happy Passover, happy Easter, or whatever holiday or egg-laying event you prefer to celebrate. In our heretical household, we go for Happy Zombie Jesus Day! 😉

Day 3 #NPM15 – Verge

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Small, brown garden snake

dangling from a chicken’s beak—

the wind feels like rain.

Day 2 #NPM15 – Spring Cold

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Chicken alarm wakes

me from sick sleep—where the hell

is that snooze button?

***

I wrote this yesterday but forgot to post it. Spent most of the day sleeping as much as I could. Horrible chest cold… Chickens have a very distinctive alarm call—kind of like a car alarm. It usually goes for few minutes then stops, but it’s hard to ignore…

Day 1 #NPM15 – Chicken Haiku & Rimas

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Margaret & Anne digging for worms

Margaret & Anne digging for worms

Chickens dig.

Earthworms zig…too slow!

It’s time to eat!

***

Happy April. Happy National Poetry Month 2015 (#NPM15). I figure it’s time to get serious about posting again, so we’ll shoot for a poem a day during the special month of April. But I’m warning you now—they may be mostly chicken haiku.

Incidentally despite my lack of recent posts, I still get some regular traffic. I can always tell when some high school or college Spanish class is translating poetry. Back in 2012 I posted a few translations of Gustavo Adolpho Bécquer’s Rimas. They are my MOST POPULAR POSTS EVER. (I think I’m a little insulted that my own work doesn’t get more attention. Heh.) Some days I think I should hide them and make the poor kids do their own work.

In case you’re interested (and they do make pretty good reading for #NPM15), in order of popularity…

Rima XXI – By far the most popular, currently around 1650 views.

Rima XXIII – Around 650 views.

Rima XXXVIII – Around 400 views.

Rima XVII – Around 250 views.

Almost everything else of mine has well under 100 views. So, this is not a brag fest on how popular my blog is—just an interesting side note on what people are searching for that gets them here. And yes, visitors do seem to look at more than one page. They look at the other Rimas—but only if they’re part of the homework assignment!! After that, I’m pretty sure they never return. You’d think they could at least give me a Like or something…