Poems & Essays

20 Nov

Tale of the Chicken

General/Column No Response

My children’s lives are neatly cut in two:
English at home, Japanese at school.
They never comment on it, in either language.
I, on the other hand, feel ripped in half, raggedly.

One day my sons tell me a story they heard
in school, about a chicken who set itself on fire.
I gasp. “No, no,” they say, “the chicken
is supposed to be on fire.” “A barbecue?” I guess.

They squirm and giggle. “No, the chicken flies
out of the flames with bright new feathers and a tail
longer than a peacock’s, better than before.”
“A phoenix!” I exclaim, and everyone grin, nods,

our family is whole again. Then I make a mistake.
“Phoenix is also a city in my country,” I say.
The children look at each other sideways, skeptical,
change the subject. No amount of prompting

will return them to the chicken. Small mementos
of my childhood I offer to my sons as bright feathers
for a nest. Instead they build a pyre and light it.
From necessary flames, radiant and alien, my sons rise.


Jessica Goodfellow’s books are Whiteout (University of Alaska Press, 2017), Mendeleev’s Mandala (2015) and The Insomniac’s Weather Report (2014). Her work has appeared in Best New Poets, Verse Daily, Motionpoems, and on NPR’s The Writer’s Almanac. She has had work in Threepenny Review, Beloit Poetry Review, The Southern Review, and elsewhere.


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