Spring 2016, Volume 20

Poetry by Phil Nast

A Merry Thought

Like a pair of untethered Macy’s balloons,
they bob into Chik’n’Quik where a hostess
hustles them to a back booth so their patchwork
garb and exaggerated gestures won’t detract

from the family atmosphere. The one
who can do everything moderately,
if he chooses, decides that tonight he’s not
chewing and asks for a fathomless Coke

while the other who can do nothing moderately
orders his habitual whole roasted chicken.
Both ate an hour ago, but their medications
make for irrational hunger. The one sipping

was a map maker, drew most of the charts
for a best-selling atlas. He imagines a world
free of want and plays the lottery as some church.
The one eating studied to be a surgeon

until he decided all medicine was, in the end,
intuitively obvious and bought a bag of saws.
I used to know the names of all this stuff,
he says, shaking a leg at its chicken. I still do —

garbage! He bites the belly of what was muscle,
pulling it free of the bone. The sipper sips
and smiles around his straw, used to his brother’s
extravagant gloom. Even that chicken, the sipper nods

has countless reincarnations before her.
The eater stops munching, nearly swallows,
does, runs his tongue over his upper teeth,
as if searching for something distasteful. Look Gandhi,

you chose not to eat, but leave me in peace.
But it’s true. The sipper tries to appear earnest.
You could be gnawing a future Rhodes Scholar.
And you could be drinking Stalin’s eyewash.

Spare me the cosmic. This is, was a chicken —
Chickenus domesticus. Now, it’s my dinner.
He picks up knife and fork then puts them down.
A real surgeon doesn’t need instruments, he says,

tearing the breast halves apart. I would have been
a great chest cracker. The sipper signals a refill.
That’s only a chicken. The eater raises a brow. So?
You know the difference between a chicken

and a man? The sipper nods. A furcula—
the wishbone, the merry thought. I looked it up.
We go through this every time you eat a chicken.
You want me to say I don’t know the difference,

so you can say: a man holds the fork.
But it’s the furcula—where the flight muscles attach.
No wishbone. No flight. Not that chickens
fly much or well, just short hops to save their butts

when weasels or foxes turn up, but that’s
because of selective breeding. Probably
thousands of years ago, in the Far East,
Indonesia maybe, that bird’s ancestor,

proto-chicken was a really good flier.
If we had furculae we could fly. Of course,
we’d need feathers too, but that’s the neat               
thing about nature. You generally get

what you need. If we had furculae,
we’d get feathers. Imagine. No need for a car.
No more renting little rooms. No more waiting
for Social Security checks. The sipper stops,

sighs, and draws on his straw. The eater
stares at his brother and sucks at his teeth.
He wipes his hands with a shredded paper napkin.
Do you know what would happen to us

if we could fly? We’re too big to be pets.
You talk too damn much to be in a zoo.
Hell, you’d bore the other birds to death.
Someone would look at us and say: dinner!

The only reason that hasn’t happened yet
is we still look like people. Here, I have
a merry thought. He offers his brother one end.
I’m going to wish for another chicken.




BIO: Phil Nast taught middle school in Ohio. Since then he has been a freelance writer for textbooks and education websites.