Surely you have heard that big things come in little packages. It's never been truer than with this amazing memoir of Alice Walker's hands-on affair with her chickens.
In case you can't read the cover of this book, after "The Chicken Chronicles" Alice adds "Sitting with the Angels Who Have Returned with My Memories: Glorious, Rufus, Gertrude Stein, Splendor, Hortensia, Agnes of God, the Gladyses & Babe: A Memoir." Now if that doesn't entice you to read this book, perhaps the rest of my blog will.
As some of you know, I am pre-disposed to like chickens and often bemoan the fact that in my lifetime I've never had one to call my own. So I was set to like this book from the outset. I have always known of Alice -- I mean, how can you NOT remember that this is the writer of "The Color Purple," a Pulitzer-prize winner and an advocate for the world's dispossessed. That alone should make you want to see what she has to say about chickens. That, and wondering what kind of person would name a chicken "Agnes of God?"
Even though I admit to not understanding poetry - and there was a tinch of poetry in this book - nevertheless I found this one of the most touching, life-affirming and thought-provoking books I've read in a long time. Made up of 37 small entries, her words encompass everything from her back yard to her past to her family, to world leaders and, of course to her beloved chickens. Her sensitivity to both big and small often made her words carry with them the ability to put a lump in my throat.
Here's an example: Babe, one of her chickens meets an accidental death. She find the chicken, holds it on her lap for a while and thinks about suffering before death, hoping that Babe didn't experience it.
"On one of his tapes, my teacher Jack Kornfield talks about what we are likely to think about as we are dying. The most important question we will ask ourselves - having long given up asking such questions of others - is, "Did I love well? After all, we're the only ones who could know. I think an acceptable answer is: I loved as well as I C\could.This is a tiny taste of Alice's words and, well, of her nature.
"What helps me with Babe's death is that the day before, not knowing the future, I sat with her on my lap, stroking and admiring her. It delighted me that her experience of being a chicken on Earth among humans was a loving one. That she ate only the best food, slept in a clean chicken house, had a nest ready for her and her eggs, should she ever happen to lay any. If someone had tried to tell Babe about the cruelty done to chickens by humans, and she could understand the language, she would not have believed them. Her experience, until a human accidentally closed the door to the outside world on her head, was that we are OK. Decent creatures to have in the service of chicks. For that, too, is how she had experienced humans."
I can't remember when I've been so touched by a book. And a writer. The books calls out to be read again and again. Even in its small size, it's too big for just one reading.