Word Poetry




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Sample Poems by Ronnie Hess

At the Beginning

I can tell you this – a chicken once laid an egg in my hand. I was living in England, teaching English and history at St. Clotilde’s, a private school in Lechlade, about 25 miles west of Oxford. On weekends, I’d occasionally visit my uncle, aunt and four cousins in Great Coxwell, a small village known for its 13th century tithe barn. Life in Great Coxwell was straight out of a Beatrix Potter tale. A Cotswold stone house along Puddleduck Lane. Wild mushrooms in the field at the top of an unpaved road daubed with cows’ manure. My uncle worked for a cattle and poultry feed manufacturer. He planted the garden; my aunt tended the chicken coop.

The egg dropped steaming
Into the cup of my hand
Stunned into silence


I was raised a city girl. In childhood, in small apartments, our pets –assorted kittens, turtles, a salamander, tropical fish, caged birds. In college, in a dormitory room – a biology class project to hatch fertile eggs on a heating pad, but they cooked in their shells. Much later, I married a man who loved chickens. I didn’t know this at the start. He never spoke of them, didn’t own any, had no farming background, no 4-H projects to crow about. But once, when he was in the Peace Corps in Guatemala, he tried to bring about 50 chicks back to his village in a cardboard box. He was on foot, there was no paved road, and it started to rain. The box crumpled, and the chicks fell out. Since he had no place to put them, beyond his pockets, he left them to fate. Years later, when we were living in a Midwestern city and had a big back yard, he told me he wanted chickens. It was during the COVID lockdown when everybody needed someone or something to love.

Abandoned or caged
Animal menagerie
Home is not a pound


The brood was an assortment – two Rhode Island Reds; two Americaunas, which can lay pale blue as well as brown eggs; a Barred Rock, so-called for the white and black barring of its feathers; and a New Jersey White. By law, we were only allowed four hens, but since it was a joint project with two sets of neighbors, we bent the rules. We gave the hens our own but not particularly original pet names. Goldie, Brownie, Big and Little Red. Joisy, the New Jersey White, was the intrepid one, the first to climb the ladder into the loft, or go outside. Bardrock, the Barred Rock hen, was the dominatrix, a virago, “top dog” in the pecking order, pushing the others away when treats presented themselves, unapologetically getting the lion’s share. For all her ferocity, we lapsed into calling her him. Until she got sick.

What’s in a name then?
I will not come when you call
Appointments required


I did not expect the change the hens wrought in me. Nights worrying, ear cocked for alarm sounds coming through the open window. The realization that I was responsible for other living things. My training? A short course as a chicken therapist. Hens might not remember their past lives under a heat lamp, or of suffering through separation anxiety when removed from their mothers, but they do know how to live in the moment. Which was when we talked. They did not like noise. Lawnmowers and garbage trucks were not appreciated. Late-night neighborhood parties provoked the hens to vociferate, “Enough already. I can’t sleep!” Did you know that chickens have different vocalization patterns, their own unique voice – burbling, querulous, squeaky, low- or high-pitched? Beyond sound, they are also highly sensitive to movement. If a leaf falls, the sky indeed could be interpreted as falling, prompting the birds to scatter with speed. Given the news of floods, fires, storms, earthquakes, international chaos, not to mention a pandemic, I have been tempted to conclude that the world is, indeed, coming apart. But the hens disabuse me of such a pitiful conclusion. I follow their lead.

Poultry therapist
Let’s call her Doctor Despair
An egg is an egg

Barred Rock Hen

The flock’s true poet
still self-published
black and white with
blue-tipped feathers

she has been in the ink
up at dawn
singing her stories
nights a sentinel’s amber eyes
watches for late-night prowlers
(raccoon feral dog fox)
in battened down coop
she lets just the wind in

Hen Craft

“Arranging your poems can feel like herding birds.” – Bonnie Jacobson

If hens fly the coop
don’t cajole
no need to speak

Understand urgency

Don’t run after them
but get down low
arms wide as wings

When you are close enough
put your hand on her back
She may think you’re a rooster
crouch offer her private parts

This is the opportune moment

Pick her up
do not squeeze
or hold her by the feet
You have saved her
from evisceration oblivion
unnecessarily long words