“Ash, a Broad-Breasted White Turkey Hen, Age 8” by Amy Miller

Amy Miller


Notice how she carves light out of shadow,
how feathers have parted in the way of old boas
and her eye fixes you sideways. Almost none
of her kind survive this long, her wrinkled neck
singular and lonely. Beak shortened, incomplete—
a scar of her time at the factory years before,
a gate meant never to open. Life does this,
doesn’t it? Sometimes moves right out the door
under somebody’s arm, or finds the one hole
in the wire.

Wings white, disheveled, parts of her
falling away, who’s to say old age isn’t
incandescent power? Just look at her light.
Imagine all of them living, living—like the two
you thought of setting free from the cage
by the field in October. How they watched you
standing with an ax you only brought
to fell bamboo—beautiful, thick nuisance—
when you stumbled on them, well fed and waiting
for November and their farmer.

the springed steel door—you could see
how it opened. You knew they’d never last,
wandering free and huge, their big fan tails
dragged like closed umbrellas behind them.
Ridiculous, illegal to do it—property, some
stupid law and your bleeding heart the butt
of Thanksgiving jokes all over the valley.
Remember: They looked at you, unafraid
and young. Like this old one looking out
from the photo, this Ash, from the safe
darkness of her barn where someone thought
to let her live, and then let her live.

from Poets Respond
September 17, 2019


Amy Miller: “Earlier this week I saw an ad for a Chicago showing of the photographs of Isa Leshko, a young woman who specializes in photographing elderly rescued farm animals. Leshko has collected some of her work in her new book, Allowed to Grow Old, and the photos are some of the most moving I’ve ever seen. I was amazed—and horrified—to realize that I’d never seen an old rooster before, or an old turkey, or even an old cow; most farm animals are killed before they’re a year old. I was also struck by how noble these elderly animals look, with their grizzled beards and wrinkles and rheumy eyes. We all age in similar ways, if we’re—to use Leshko’s heartbreaking term—allowed to. For these animals, it seems old age truly is a gift. And for us humans, the photos are a reminder of where we are in our own evolutionary journey—still a long way from ethical, a long way from righteous.” (web)

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