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Rhode Island Red cock and hen          Date: 1919
Red Hen

 

We know nothing

about hens, yet find ourselves

in charge of half a dozen.

 

The odd girl out –

you call her Mrs One – loses

her footing in the mud.

 

You carry her

into the hen-house

with piano player hands.

 

Still there the next day,

she has turned her blunt

red beak to the wall.

 

We talk to neighbours

about red mites, infections,

wonder if she’s egg-bound.

 

We fill her bowl

with cabbage-leaves,

stroke her tight wings.

 

Her sisters cry out,

foul her water,

shit on her plumage.

 

We are told you’d get

a new hen for the price

of the vet. For the first time

 

I want to crack a bird’s neck.

Instead we hand her back,

ailing but alive.

 

Weeks later you find me

in quick tears

for the red hen;

 

you brush the rust

of my feathers, fill up

my hopper with oyster shells.

 

 

© Shirley McClure

Picture 10191377, illustration, 1919,  image copyright Mary Evans

 

 

Shirley McClure’s first collection, Who’s Counting?, was published by Bradshaw Books in 2010 and her second collection, Stone Dress, by Arlen House in 2015. Her poetry was widely published in literary journals and she won numerous awards, including Listowel Writers’ Week Originals Poetry Competition 2014, the PENfro Poetry Competition 2015 and runner-up in the Patrick Kavanagh Award 2009. Shirley also taught creative writing with a particular interest in writing and health. After her untimely death from cancer in September 2016 her publisher, Alan Hayes of Arlen House, invited her friend Jane Clarke to edit a New & Collected Shirley McClure, including Shirley’s two published collections, together with 31 beautifully poignant new poems (Origami Doll, Arlen House, May 2019).