Better Angels


Heads cocked and clucking, The chickens follow me, Listening to my prayers, Which are plans for the garden —

I can’t abide angels, overrated Guardians of no one. I believe in these earthly Murmurers patrolling My yard

(poem excerpt by Eric Nelson)

These were the leading ladies of our backyard. Each was unique in how they looked and in their temperament. Shaniqua, the Americana was smart, bossy and the head of the henhouse. She loved to be held. Deliah, the beautiful dark featherfoot was the sweetheart. When she walked, her rear swayed like a woman in a bustle. Lucy, the blond silky sensitive one with a mohawk. She looked tough but was skittish and stayed close to the others. Always.

This morning we discovered a tragedy in the henhouse. Something attacked the girls in the night, leaving Shaniqua and Deliah dead and headless. Lucy was alive and sitting still amidst the disarray of death and feathers, her tiny face bloody and unrecognizable. Horrific is the only way to truly describe what we witnessed. Unbearably cruel and heartbreaking is the sense of loss. When we realized what lay before us, we rushed Lucy to the vet to have her put down. It was the only option. Then, we returned home to bury all three girls together.

As pets, chickens typically live to five years. These hens were well into their 7th. My beloved's kids named them and raised them until he and I got together. Then, they became our hens and moved with us three times. They loved any chance at having free reign of the yard, taking dust baths and overturning our landscape in search of bugs. They delighted in eating handfuls of our table scraps and leftovers.  Bread, grapes and pasta were their favorites. Of all their annoying and endearing qualities, what I’ll miss the most are their conversations— the way the chatted it up and filled our yard with their cackles. Without the girls, the yard feels empty and quiet.

We will be repurposing wood from their henhouse to build garden boxes. I like the idea of their habitat becoming a home for growing nourishment. In time, we may begin again with new chicks. But for now, we will hold gratitude for the gifts of our 3 girls…their eggs, their presence, their unique beauty. They will be missed.

P.S. My dear friend Nan wrote this poem upon learning the news of this loss:


Elegy for a Friend’s Hens

in conversation with Better Angels by Eric Nelson

By Nan Seymour


Pet chickens typically live five years,

but not these divas—

at the age of seven,

they were far from finished 

with their conversations.


They cackled happily, 

relishing grapes, scraps of bread

and pasta. Backyard sovereigns, 

Beloved rulers of the bugscape!


Christened by children:

Shaniqua, head of the henhouse

who loved to be held, 

dark Delilah, with her feathery feet

and Beyoncé sway,

and Lucy, whose sensitivity 

belied her mohawk.


An attack in the night 

left Shaniqua and Delilah

dead and headless,

Lucy alive, but unrecognizable.

Her friends did what they had to do—

took her to the vet and put her down,

an act of mercy, both terrible

and necessary.


Now the three lie together

in the sudden quiet.


Let us remember their blend

of hubris and humility.

Let us recall the details:

Delilah’s bustle, 

Shaniqua’s bossiness,

Lucy’s loyalty.


Who knows if they went to a better place?

The lives they lived here were good.


Let others speak of cherubim

and seraphim with swords aflame— 

As for me, I prefer earthbound 

blessings. I prefer to remember 

these hens.