Out of School

M.R. Peacocke

The hen boy: he must have had a name.
I discovered the yard where he worked,
the strange dry smell of it, the bald ground.
In those days, Sesame was hidden
under my tongue for the opening
of secret fiefdoms, treasure-pages,
but the hen boy seldom needed words.
His tools and resources were other.

He could have been twelve, and I was nine.
Years and years of school lay before me.
His were over, but what he needed
he knew already: how to select
the right brown bird among so many.
The right one would arrive in his hand
as though there were a recognition,
like the perfect word finding its place.

Next, a grasp of the scaled yellow legs –
no violence in it. A soft brushing
of feather to find the neck that curved
squat to the comfortable body.
An elongation – legerdemain –
a twist too quick to note, and the hen,
though she seemed not yet to know it, dead.
Some mornings he would give me a glance,

and then came something like performance:
the dangling head tucked under a wing,
body placed and balanced, and the bird
jolting suddenly into nightmare,
a veering diagonal scurry
towards the stripping of her jacket
under a strong thumb and being found
pinkish and kitcheny. That was it.

Then one day he took me by the hand.
Come on, I’ll show you the barn. It loomed,
lofty with shadow, smelling of grain.
In the corner, a squat brown barrel.
The hen boy’s bending at the spigot
with a chipped enamel mug, pouring
golden scrumpy, handing it to me.
We’re sitting and sipping, going shares.