Chicken feet. Becoming chicken feet. My hands: scaly, reptilian, talonniated. The rash and pustules are drying out and sloughing off, flakes of brittle skin. There is a compulsion to pick and peel, this skin that is me, uncannily so—half dead and half alive. This body—alien, prehistoric. Palms upturned my hands do not resemble hands. What I see are chicken feet like those brought from Curtis at the Hillcrest Sunday market, a bonus, thrown in with the chicken, along with a few heads and livers, to add to Jeffrey’s chicken stock.
I imagine how the cats felt the first time they encountered the chickens. When we first opened the door of their run so that they could range the yard they stuck together and stayed close to home, moving in a mass, a singular feathery body, delicately pecking at this and that, determining what was tasty, where the bugs were. Then, as the days passed, they grew bolder. Then they saw the cats. Curiosity killed the cat they say, but this time the curiosity was in the chickens. Intrigued by these new creatures they charged – en masse, all four of them, thundering down the yard, wings flapping, huge scaly talonned feet. Dinosaurs in flight. Imagine those talons ripping into flesh. I imagine how Charlie Aarons must have felt that time she came with us to buy the chickens. It must be over thirty years ago. She came to stay at the farm in Toora and we went with our lovely neighbor Peter Danuser to fetch the dozen white leghorn pullets ordered from a chicken farm in Yarram. Back at Toora Peter and I clipped one wing on each bird before releasing them from the cage into the old run we had renovated, preserving the sign amongst the recycled wood: Toora Holiday flats. Helen Casey who helped us fence the yard (around the edge of which we planted kiwi fruit vines and passion fruit) loved the chickens. There is an old photo of her proudly holding a chicken as though it were a large but living fish she’d landed. Instead of a man with a fish or a boy with a car: a girl with a chicken. But for Charlie it was different. She had a phobia about birds. Although I cannot worm my way into her skin and feel what she feels when in the presence of chickens, I have a vague inkling since I too have a phobia: about blood. This is crazy for a person with a blood disease. But I understand I think the sense of total panic, going weak at the knees and wrists, the world going woozy, the falling out of consciousness. She was so brave Charlie, then. I remember she drove the tractor that day. Recently she wrote to me, posting on the blog: Collecting eggs from a chicken coop is a serious challenge for me let alone the idea of actually picking up a chook!
Layer after layer—though not smoothly, it’s not as though there were a layer as in a ream of paper where you can shuffle and each piece of paper settles back into its own layer, no its more like when, in the Los Laureles Canyon in Tijuana, mud—after a churning storm—dries and cracks and flakes when you walk, disintegrating. Nothing underneath, no topsoil. Let’s stick with the saying anyway—layer after layer my skin peels away. What will be left? My hands will disappear into nothingness. I will be handless. And what will all the peeling away of the body reveal: a complex psyche? Not bloody likely. More likely just a skeletal claw, something resembling a chicken’s foot. But without all the gristle and gelatinous support that makes for such delicious chicken soup.