©Erinn Hertzler, 2010

Underpants was the name we settled on
after the kids dubbed her KFC
she was a tasty little morsel
a peeping fluffy saved from the Boa Constrictor
at the Coyote Point Museum
let out of her cage
she explored the world of feet under the desks
how many shoestrings there were to pull
how many globs of poo we swept up with a tissue
there was a buzz about the chick
students with blank faces came alive:
did Ms. Baker eat chicken?
and then one student revealed
how badly he felt—allergic to dander
Underpants went to live in another classroom
“Abominable Peeping,” those Advanced Placement kids called it
I took her home weekends and some weeknights
no cage in the car—she pooped a lot
but held on to my shoulder with tiny claws
and folks paused as we walked down the street
to coo over her
David watched TV with her on the couch
and he taught her a trick
to catch a string of saliva he dribbled out his mouth
she sipped it up then settled down on his lap and slept
Underpants ate all the scraps we gave her
I marveled at the adaptability of a chicken
living off the kitchen floor leavings in our city
when I worked at my laptop
I’d tap tap my thigh
and she flew to my knee
and rested there as I wrote
one time she eyed, grabbed, and gobbled down the green rubber
nub in the center of my keyboard
she didn’t die from that
and from then on I wore the pad of my forefinger into a red callous
as she got bigger she got stinkier
and teachers complained so we took her to the ranch to live with the chickens
when we left she got trapped in their house
pressed up against the glass window
far away from the hens
who chased and pecked her
and it was a miracle she survived
they wouldn’t let her leave the house
to scratch in the fenced yard
but she’d make a dash for it
run and sip some water
I’d visit and let her out
the only chicken privileged to eat grass
and find worms at her leisure
Underpants grew into a red gold pullet
I later discovered she was a Buff Orpington
and she died of a chicken cancer
but before that we moved her
away from the too small yard and intolerant hens and rapacious rooster
to where my friend lived
and she was the sole chicken at Ember Ridge
guarded by Little the ranch dog
she roamed freely, laid eggs in the flower beds
came running when you called her
held still when you cuddled her
took baths in mud puddles and dirt
lay—wings spread—in the sun
she moved in and out of the barn and
horse stalls, found grubs and bootlaces
and people smiled when they saw her
pleased by her throat call, cluck and scratch
the little rises and falls
of a chicken sound

©Stephanie Baker, 2010

Stephanie Baker is a 2009-2010 recipient of a San Francisco Arts Commission Cultural Equity grant for her book-length work Mud Pony. She was one of Jack Hirschman’s chosen “Poets 11” during his tenure as San Francisco Poet Laureate.  She also co-hosts and co-produces The Organic Word Literary Series at Mission Pie, a venue for K-12 students and teachers to read and perform their work.

2 Responses to “Underpants by Stephanie Baker”

  1. Jennifer Marinace Says:

    Makes me want to have another go at a classroom pet. One goldfish lasted three years, others much fewer, but a chicken, now that’s a great class pet!

  2. Stephanie Baker Says:

    Yes, a little chick in a classroom can work great if no one is allergic. Does very well in a small cage and when you hand raise them they really love to cuddle and cling to you.

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