Iowa Writes

LYZ BARANOWSKI
Fowl Failure


We slipped one egg from the incubator and cracked it open into a small white bowl. We held the bowl up and compared its contents to the developmental chart of a chicken that had come in an issue of National Geographic. Each time we broke the hard-shell womb, effectively killing the life we were to witness, our mom patted her belly. "Watch closely. This is kind of like what's going on inside of me."

Only four eggs out of thirty-six hatched. Mom helped two more out of their shells. Dad chided. "You're not supposed to do that."

"But they're just little babies."

The next morning they were dead.

The four surviving chickens spent the next two weeks of their life in a cardboard box in the den. We cupped their small warm bodies in our hands feeling the quick thudding of their hearts reverberate through our palms. Their small beaks kissed the tips of our fingers. Soon, their gentle pecks grew into calculated stabs. Our hands were pockmarked with violence. We put them down and never picked them up again.

We slipped one egg from the incubator and cracked it open into a small white bowl. We held the bowl up and compared its contents to the developmental chart of a chicken that had come in an issue of National Geographic. Each time we broke the hard-shell womb, effectively killing the life we were to witness, our mom patted her belly. "Watch closely. This is kind of like what's going on inside of me."

Only four eggs out of thirty-six hatched. Mom helped two more out of their shells. Dad chided. "You're not supposed to do that."

"But they're just little babies."

The next morning they were dead.

The four surviving chickens spent the next two weeks of their life in a cardboard box in the den. We cupped their small warm bodies in our hands feeling the quick thudding of their hearts reverberate through our palms. Their small beaks kissed the tips of our fingers. Soon, their gentle pecks grew into calculated stabs. Our hands were pockmarked with violence. We put them down and never picked them up again.

The strongest two began to beat their weaker siblings in a torture that lasted for a week. The beaks of the strongest plunged into the soft bodies of the weak, who cheeped for mercy. At the moment it seemed the victims were ready to die, their brothers, their attackers would walk away. They would eat, drink and sometimes nap—allowing the weaker ones to rest before beginning again. The victims lay afraid to move; blood and feces crusted the newspaper around them. The stronger birds viewed their victims with glossy black eyes. They enjoyed the spongy resilience of skin before it broke underneath their force, the fuzz that accumulated in their open mouths. Savoring the violence, they allowed no easy deaths, no swift ends; just peck and scratch after peck and scratch, until their mutilated siblings could barely force the will to cry out.

As the weaker ones grew smaller and more immobile the oldest grew strong, with thick glossy grown-up feathers appearing through their blood-splattered fuzz.

It's a Darwinian impulse that causes the egret to push his sibling out of the nest and rest comfortably while his own brother falls with a thud on the hard ground, leaving him there to be found later by little boys with sticks. It is an evolutionary necessity for the sand tiger shark to systematically kill and eat his siblings in the womb, before emerging victorious from his mother as the only shark fit to live. Spadefoot tadpoles only eat their siblings when food is scarce. But that was not what this was. This went beyond survival.

It must have worried our parents to see all six of their children looking down into that cardboard box: A slideshow of the world we were not yet supposed to know. Hearing cries for mercy and not saying a word.

By the end of the week, the two victims were gone.

Our mom slid her hand along the forming arch of our brother. "They died. They died and we buried them. They're okay now." Death was the placating lie. We heard the evanescent cheeping echo up from the creek for three days, and when it stopped we were relieved.

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About Iowa Writes

Since 2006, Iowa Writes has featured the work of Iowa-identified writers (whether they have Iowa roots or live here now) and work published by Iowa journals and publishers on The Daily Palette. Iowa Writes features poetry, fiction, or nonfiction twice a week on the Palette.

In November of 2008, the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) designated Iowa City, Iowa, the world's third City of Literature, making the community part of the UNESCO Creative Cities Network.

Iowa City has joined Edinburgh, Scotland and Melbourne, Australia as UNESCO Cities of Literature.

Find out more about submitting by contacting iowa-writes@uiowa.edu


LYZ BARANOWSKI

Lyz Baranowski grew up in California, Texas, South Dakota and Minnesota, but says, "I finally feel at home in Iowa." Her essays have appeared in Dragonfire, Des Moines Register, Cedar Rapids Gazette, Iowa City Press-Citizen and The Contemporary Reader. She currently works as a writer for a documentary about America's highways.

This page was first displayed
on April 22, 2007

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