The Chicken Chronicles
©2010 by Alice Walker
The week that Michael Jackson died, Mommy was in a state of shock. She could do nothing, really, but come sit with you. Or with her human sweetheart, or with the other “children;” the dog, Miles, and the cat, Surprise. Spending time with you was especially comforting, and she sat some part of each day with one or the other of you on her lap. She also became even more obsessed with your freedom. How to protect you from predators and how to keep you safe if indeed you wandered beyond the enclosed confines of your house and yard. What pained her so much about the loss of Michael was the loss of his own innocence, seeing it offered to adoring fans that did not have a clue, many of them, how precious was the gift they were consuming. Because to Mommy, looking at a photo of the young Michael, when he was bursting with love of life and the joy of giving himself to others in song, he was a special being, sent to us for a special reason. It seemed to her almost everyone forgot to keep wanting to know: What was that reason?
Mommy could not bring herself to watch the memorial for Michael, live. She waited for a rerun, and that was still almost too painful to bear. She couldn’t absorb the reality that Michael could fit into so small a casket, even if it was made of silver, or whatever the shining metal was. She could not believe his memorial was so large and that it was so public. And that people bought tickets to attend. These things seemed to be about the Other Michael that Young Michael had become, but not about the little boy who loved to sing and dance for the offering of it. So many times over the years, watching Michael as he flashed by on screen or marquee Mommy had wanted to tell him to take his chimp and a backpack and go camping for two or three years. It had all seemed too big, too demanding, too draining, even though everyone in his company seemed to agree he was very good at it. The Entertainer.
And then there were a couple of questions that really hounded Mommy: How could Michael not know how beautiful he was, as he was? And, didn’t anyone ever kiss his nose and tell him they loved it? Or his hair or his chin? Or his color, even with spots?*
Mommy looks at all of you, so different in coloration, beak and comb size and length of feather, and she can’t imagine wanting to change a single thing. You poop all over the place and never even notice; but this too seems the way you are made. Sometimes if you perch on Mommy’s shoulder or head she has a moment of concern, but it passes; she smoothly redirects you closer to the ground.
Mommy met Michael Jackson only once. It was in Steven Spielberg’s wonderful Navajo rug decorated New Mexico adobe style studio in Burbank when he was shooting Mommy’s novel The Color Purple. (What would you do with a copy of this book, Mommy wonders? If I sprinkled it with mash gravy you would probably eat it). Anyway, Michael’s mentor and friend, Quincy Jones introduced us. (Mommy loves Q, irrespective of diet). I smiled and said hello. Michael, his eyes wide and startled, looking curiously like a deer (Mommy loves deer), but dressed in a dark blue uniform with big silver buttons (you would have enjoyed pecking at), said nothing. Quincy had told Mommy that Michael loved the story of The Color Purple and thought of himself as a Celie, the abused step-daughter of her “father” and the brutalized wife of “Mister.” Mommy thought it odd that Michael did not speak, but she had heard of his shyness with strangers. She blessed him in her heart ( she could still clearly see the little boy who had loved to sing no matter who was listening) and moved on.
When Michael was being accused of things she could not believe he would do, Mommy wrote to him and sent the letter by Quincy. Seeing his suffering, she invited him to come for a Master Class she intended to call “The Insufficiently Charted Territory of Perilous Smiles.” A seminar about who some people are, and who he might, trusting them, become. In his innocence, Michael often seemed to Mommy not to inhabit the same Americas she did. This is a huge pitfall for many of our young humans who are taught nothing of how to protect themselves from a machine of malice and envy and greed that, with a big smile, runs some of our best people over, year after year, decade after decade, even century after century. (It is still almost impossible for Mommy to believe, for instance, that Toussaint L’Ouverture (b. 1743) the liberator of Haiti who defeated the French in battle and banned slavery (taking away their human “property”) was still enticed to go to Paris; from there he was taken to the frigid mountains of France,imprisoned, and left to freeze to death. Some serious smiling there!) Though the letter was apparently delivered to Michael, there was no response. Mommy wondered if this was because she asked him to come as himself, not as his persona, and to “leave all long cars at home.”
What is lovely about meditation is that looking back on this comment Mommy made in her letter, she can see how judgmental and insensitive it was. No wonder he didn’t answer it. This almost sarcastic bluntness, which her Sagittarian rising sign gives her, is not always helpful. By befriending rather than cursing it, however, Mommy can help it mellow out, become more skillful; and instead of hating others who also say annoying things, she can see they’re just like her, mostly unaware at the time.
Sometime in the midst of grieving, Mommy figured out that she could let you out into the vegetable garden, if not all the way underneath the grape arbor that unfortunately circles into the woods where the big gray predator that steals chickens seems to lurk. She would have to sit with you while you scratched and ate. This is what she did.
Mommy’s Jewish curandera who lives on the coast also raises chickens. Once when she was about to stick an acupuncture needle in Mommy’s third eye Mommy told her of her dream to have chickens running about the vegetable garden ridding it of bugs. Her friend laughed. I don’t advise it, she said. Then she told Mommy of her experience of letting her chickens run free in her garden. They ate, shredded, scratched up everything, she said. By the time they were through, there was very little left for us to eat that wasn’t pecked. So Mommy had waited. But now, her own love of liberty kept her awake at night, imagining chickens felt the same way about freedom she did. How could she give them freedom and keep them safe?
So there Mommy sat, having opened your gate – through which you poured like a fluffy tide – surrounded by a flock of liberated chickens. You were acting just as my friend said: messing up everything. But by then I didn’t care. Go ahead, I thought, mess it up. I will eat the plants with the holes in them. Why not? And in fact, the more I let go of caring about the damage, the more I relaxed, even exulted in the freedom you seemed to feel. And then up walked Glorious, who looked me kind of in the eye or maybe she was looking into one of my buttons, and hopped into my lap.
Glorious, of all of you, was the most sensuous; and I know you don’t hear that said much about chickens. But she was. Once in a lap she could nestle in and stay as long as possible, until the lap stood up. Then she would lie where she fell, seemingly in a swoon of ecstasy. She would remain in that state for several minutes, until Rufus or Agnes came over and started to peck at imaginary insects underneath her. I named her Glorious for the shining straw colored grasses of mid summer, when Northern California puts on such a show of opulence and ease. Everything golden and still. Warm. Everything growing. Or dying. But quietly.
I had dragged my meditation camping chair that
folds out of storage and we were sitting in it together underneath the windmill. I think this was the day of Michael’s memorial or perhaps the day after it. What can one do at such times? I think: Hold something that is alive. Breathe with it. Feel its heart. Offer yours. What else is there?
However, I remembered I had left a burner on up the hill in the kitchen and decided to put Glorious down and go up to turn it off. I did this. When I returned, she was gone.
Just like that.
I looked everywhere. The garden fence wasn’t too tall for a determined predator to scale, but it was unlikely one had done so during the fifteen minutes I had been gone. Of course I thought maybe some hungry human had slipped in and stuck Glorious under his arm. But we are miles from anywhere and there’re not that many hungry humans passing our place. And then I remembered my love of hawks, the way they look when they’ve spotted prey and how they stop just above it in the air and seem to be standing still, though their wings are flapping. Then they drop. This had always excited me before, even though I felt sorry for the mouse, rat, rabbit, snake or whatever animal was being grabbed and then borne away. It had not occurred to me that this same fate could befall one of my chickens!
And not just any one of you, but Glorious.
And then, in my sadness to lose Michael and Glorious in the same week, I realized there is no reliable protection we can guarantee for another being, as much as we would like to do so. Freedom is a big risk, as is loving. Michael and Glorious are perhaps showing us by their lives and deaths what they came onto the planet to let us know: that each day is to be cherished, each moment of closeness with another deeply appreciated, each memory of innocence treasured, valued, and passed on.
Mommies can’t be everywhere. Only Nature can be everywhere.
It has its ways.
*Shortly after Michael Jackson stated he had bleached his skin to camouflage a case of vitiligo, which turns skin white in patches, Mommy was in Cuba visiting hospitals and delivering medicines to the Cuban Red Cross. This was during what was called The Special Period. The US embargo against Cuba had been tightened drastically and people were visibly losing weight from scarcity of food. Medicine was hard to come by. There was no soap or detergent. At a children’s hospital, Mommy noticed that the doctors’ uniforms though washed, were dingy. But they were completely committed to what they were doing: treating children from Russia who had lost hair and skin and skin coloration as a result of the nuclear meltdown in Chernobyl. One of the doctors said to Mommy: Please tell Michael Jackson we can cure vitiligo; we have been working on it with these children from Russia. Really? Mommy asked, delighted. Sure, the doctor said. Send him to us! En Español, of course.
Mommy did not know how to send Michael Jackson anywhere, or, at that time, how to even send him a letter. But she asked around until she found someone who might deliver such a message, and sent it. But then she thought: Michael probably thinks Cubans are demons, from the way they are portrayed in the media. It was painful to think he might never be cared for by physicians who would prefer to heal his affliction( whether physical or psychic) rather than hide it.
Mommy and friends in Havana during “The Special Period.” Mommy is holding the hand of Dennis Banks, whose people have always appreciated feathers(mostly of Eagles) and behind her is grandfather Fidel Castro. Behind him Grandfather Ramsey Clark. Mommy doesn’t remember the names of everybody else, alas. But she does remember that the Japanese American man and his compañera, both opthamologists, came to Cuba to find out why so many young people at the time were going blind.