Poetry by Denise O'Hagan

“Sunday roast”
             By Denise O’Hagan

You pull your cardigan tighter as you walk through the cold section,
pausing at the rows of shining plastic-covered poultry, on special
                                               fifty billion chickens and hens are killed
                                               every year for human consumption

Later, in your state-of-the-art kitchen, you unpack the bird and
wash it thoroughly because, as your sister says, you just never know
                                               they spend their lives confined in crowded sheds,
                                               permanently treading in their own excrement

You lay it down in your baking tray, drizzle it with extra-virgin olive oil, sprinkle it
with coarsely ground pepper and Himalayan sea salt (you never could resist that pink)
                                               unable to move properly or spread their wings,
                                               they become so distressed they start to attack one other

Prising it open, you spoon in the moistened aromatic breadcrumb-and-herb
stuffing – your speciality! – until its cavity is well and truly full
                                               some avoid eating altogether so as not to be attacked,
                                               dying of starvation, dehydration or cardiac arrest

You circle it with potatoes, carrots and garlic cloves, stepping back to admire
the effect – it’s a good plump bird alright, enough to feed a family of seven
                                               fattened up to twice their natural body weight,
                                              most struggle to stand, their legs weakened and deformed

An hour and a half later, you set the table in the apricot glow of the
late summer sun (kids at the far end). Ah, the joys of alfresco dining!
                                               the first daylight the chickens see is
                                               by truck on their way to the slaughterhouse

At dinner, you raise a toast to celebrate long life and your husband’s father’s
seventieth birthday, drawing a shawl of pure contentment about you
                                               at six to eight weeks, they are killed;
                                               in their natural habitat, they live up to fifteen years

Authors note: Broiler chickens, as the meat industry calls them, are those chickens raised for their meat, as distinct from laying hens. This poem relates to the practices of commercial chicken-farming adopted worldwide. The information in this poem is derived from the following sources: Animal Ethics and People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals.

- Denise O’Hagan is an editor and writer, based in Sydney, with a background in commercial book publishing. In 2015, she established her own imprint, Black Quill Press, to assist independent authors. Her work is published widely and has received numerous awards, most recently the Dalkey Poetry Prize 2020. https://denise-ohagan.com

Copyright©2021 by Denise O’Hagan. All Rights Reserved.