Back when our oldest son was a girl, we called him the Chicken Whisperer. He had this gift of stepping up to unruly roosters—the ones that chased his brother to the carpool in the morning, zeroing in like cruise missiles, the ones that made our grown house-sitters sob and sniff—and scooping them up like babies. Cannonball, Chewbacca, Lucifer, Herman Melville: He’d flip them around in his arms, talons-up, tucking the head back against his budding chest, the red wattles disappearing into their folded necks. The birds would grow calm, thoughtful. They’d study our amazed expressions with a placid chicken eye as if to say ‘what, wouldn’t you want to be here if you could?’

We did. We were all in the wild then, living in lost mountains that looked out over the ocean: fog crept out through the trees in the mornings, then back in as the sun went down smelling of salt and fish, long days spent at sea. S, too, would go out into the world unprotected: slogging from the car into the little Santa Cruz school behind the marijuana dispensary, his shoulders hunched, dyed-hair in deep bangs, glasses and shiny braces. We imagined him in the back of the classroom, dodging eye contact, eating hunkered like a bird over his plastic-wrapped feed, sharp and quick and prickly

Only in the evenings did we have any hint of what he’d become. We’d watch, secretly, from the high window in the upstairs bedroom. He’d drop the weighty backpack in the driveway and stretch, one limb at a time. Then he’d sprint for the fence. He’d crack the gate and step through: shoulders now high, hair thrown back, arms outstretched like wings, and we’d watch as all the hens would bow down before him.

Doug Lawson’s writing has appeared in a number of literary publications, including Glimmer Train Stories, repeatedly in the Mississippi Review, and has been short-listed for Best American Short Stories. His most recent book is Bigfoots in Paradise, from Red Hen Press. His blog’s online at

Photo by Mike McKniff