Pecking Order

There are fourteen tiny chicks in a box at my feet, hopping around, testing their wings, eating, drinking, pooping, napping, and then starting the sequence over again. They are utterly defenseless, so small they’d not even make a good hors d’oeuvre for a predator, but they don’t seem to know this. When I reach down to get one, they chirp in vociferous protest and scramble away as if escape were possible. Think of the energy they’d save if they just laid down and accepted whatever came their way–warmth, light, food, clean water, a snuggle with a human–or a quick end to a short life. Instead, they react to perceived threat with every fiber of their fuzzy little beings. It’s both comical and profound.

Chickens do not seem to engage in self-reflection. Among their favorite treats are chicken eggs and chicken meat. Their opportunistic cannibalism doesn’t appear to trigger any crises of conscience, and it doesn’t bother me either. They’re cute, and I’m pretty sure they like me. After capture, they relax in my warm hands, and some drift off to sleep. I can’t be sure, but it looks like blissful surrender.

“Well, it’s not,” God says, as she joins me, latte in hand.

“Where’d you get that?” I ask. I have my beer, but the latte looks good.

She flashes the telltale Starbucks logo and nods at the chicks. “They’re playing dead. It’s a last resort.”

“They are not,” I say.

God leans back. “Chickens are one of my prototypes,” she says. “But there are some design flaws. They have pecking orders and will literally kill and eat the hen at the bottom, especially if she’s an outsider. I’m not proud of how this has turned out so far.”

When God says things like that, it triggers my reactivity. “Yeah. And what’s the plan exactly? If the lion lies down with the lamb, what will the lion eat? Grass?”

God scoops up one of the black chicks and makes cooing sounds. Exasperated, I continue. “And if chickens kill the weakest member, doesn’t that make the flock stronger? And why would people born with a penis want a vagina? And if you have the chance to enslave someone for free labor, why not? Isn’t this why you gave us women, guns, and germs?”

God puts the chick back among the others, sips the last of her latte, and folds her hands. I slither to the floor. My plan is to play dead when God picks me up. But God just sits there, smiling and waiting. I look with longing at her soft, giant hands.

“Won’t work,” she says. “You’re too old to play dead.” She helps me change the water while the chicks chirp frenetically. “They’re so darn adorable,” she says.

“And versatile,” I say sarcastically, still wishing for an easier way, a less disturbing set of truths.

“And versatile,” God says, in a calm, dark voice. “Versatile.”

The Pockmarked Rock

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Sometimes God looks at me with big soulful eyes that say “I know what you know and I know that you know I know so why bother to hide?” And I say, “You know why.” And God nods. And I say, “Why do you bother?” And God says, “With what?” And I say, “With pockmarked rocks, knots in wood, burned out doctors, and the achingly slow evolution of the human spirit.”

There are tons of rocks in our house. Found, acquired, given. A few approach perfection, worn so smooth it would be hard to imagine anything smoother or rounder. Most have their reasons, but some are a mystery. How did this ugly, misshapen rock make its way into the collection? It is irredeemably ordinary, commonplace, without any distinction other than the irregularities it has not overcome. I don’t like this rock. I want to take it to the river and throw it in, but I can’t. Once a rock crosses the threshold it is beyond me to push it back out.

Without another word, God wraps strong fingers around the pockmarked rock, and it begins to glow and shimmer. Then it melts, and the demons escape, screaming into the haze. They form an astonishing acapella chorus, their screams subside into a river song, and the rock wants them back. God laughs.

“See, little one?” God says. “You already knew that story. It’s a grand one, isn’t it? One of my favorite plots.”

“You mean the inextricability of imperfection and perfection?” I ask. “Or are you just reminding me how ordinary I am?”

God takes my face into her hands, her palms under my jaw, those same strong fingers winding up the sides of my skull.

“Don’t bother,” I say. “The demons will just come back.”

“Yes,” God says. “But they always come back singing.”

I nod.