Both of my parents were city people but there was a time during my childhood we lived in primitive circumstances in a medieval farmhouse on top of a mountain in Tuscany. Below, one of my father’s poems about the new experience.
We kept chickens and my mother planted a little vegetable garden. It was the first time either of them had lived on the land, the first eggs were a miracle, and how good the carrots when they came up! When it came time to kill one of our chickens for dinner, however, my father had time to reflect: should a man who eats meat, be man enough to get it otherwise than butchered and wrapped in plastic?
Tall I stood in the chicken coop.
.Tall I stood in the chicken coop
.The birds around my feet
.And terror reigned as I did stoop
.To catch me one to eat.
.In a tiny hut ten helpless things
.And each one looked for cover
.They squawked and screamed and flapped their wings
.And banged into each other.
.I darted quickly left and right
.Grabbed and slipped and missed
.Like a warrior in a gallant fight
.A hatchet in my fist.
.“Oh wad some pe’er the giftie gi’e us”
.Went running through my head
.“Tae see eersel’s as others see us”
.As a great man once had said. *
.And a terrible wave of shame I felt
.As the chickens grew still and quiet
.T’was just like they could sense my guilt
.And dared me to deny it.
.I was here in a monstrous farce
.In that silent atmosphere
.Where the throb of eleven frightened hearts
.Was all that I could hear.
.I sat down in the chicken feed
.Cut off from life’s distractions
.I thought of the cow’rdice of my deed.
.And fought till I made my conscience bleed
.To justify my actions.
.But after an age of introspection
.The truth came in good season
.We’re all made one in God’s reflection
.To hell with human reason.
.This I resolved with an iron will
.And declared it to my wife
.“Man was born to love, not kill”
.“I refuse to take a life”
.To my surprise my wife concurred
.To kill indeed was drastic
.But I caught an air about her word
.That seemed a mite sarcastic.
.“Perhaps we’ll start a resting home”
.She then goes on and says
.“Where all the ageing hens can come”
.“To pass their twilight days”.
.“Enough!” I cried. “No further need”
.“The question to belabour”
.“But I myself won’t do the deed”
.“Frae this wan blunder I’ll be freed”
.“I’ll take it to a neighbour”.
.Chagrined I walked to a neighb’ring farm
.My footsteps were like lead
.My feathered friend was in my arm
.Her heart abeating, her body warm
.But soon she would be dead.
.My neighbour listened full of grace
.I never felt derided;
.He thought it an unusual case
.And a smile was on his kindly face
.As my problem I confided.
.He took the chicken from my hand
.And began to stretch its neck
.When all at once I could hardly stand
.For we were at sea and not on land
.And the floor heaved like a deck.
.A hellish thunder split the sky
.And a shadow fell across
.The hapless bird that was to die!
.And behold it was an albatross!
.And a curse was in its eye!
.With three times my own bodyweight
.I descended on the man
.The din was great, my friend irate
.But I saved us from a ghastly fate
.And with the bird I ran
.Back to my wife who without a word
.(Nor ever about this since referred)
.But tolerance and a loving look
.She killed and plucked and cleaned the bird
.And put it on to cook.
.But I prided me no mortal cow’rd
.To kill a helpless thing
.And my appetite was nary soured
.That dinner time as I devoured
.Some breast, a leg, and a wing.
.* Robbie Burns
A clip of dad boxing (will open in new tab) Allen versus Herman 1951
The boxers directly after the bout