Ken Poyner

They are not so rare as they once were. Ordinary people have seen them: practical picnickers gone a bit away from the group, tossing their tablecloths off the path beyond gravel and mechanically mown grass; hikers; children seeking a natural privacy for tuning their understandings of sex. These commercial beasts have become practically ubiquitous.

At one time, you only saw them as metal or plastic caricatures, mounted with steel beams and wires outside of chicken palaces, each more brazenly advertising the best chicken sandwich on the planet, demanding that all the other places raise their own unrealistically huge chicken effigies. I’ve seen them painted blue. One chicken sandwich is much like all the other chicken sandwiches, but the faux giant chickens hoisted in hyperbole would vary in presentation as much as an isolated small businessman’s mind could reach.

Back then, real eight or nine foot chickens were as rare as hen’s teeth. It took a tracker, and a team of four or five, to ferret one out, run him around half a day until his exhaustion would allow us to slip up and with team effort wring his python-like neck.

They are so common nowadays, I expect to be reading about giant chickens being killed in automobile accidents, shot by citizens who find them nosing about in the trash on their patios. An industry will spring up for collecting the stray accidental kills, processing them into chicken sandwiches, assuring the driver or homeowner that nothing is going to waste. There will be signs showing how the cost of a dented fender can be reduced with the bounty from a chicken kill and a cut on all the sandwich slabs salvageable.

Mark my words: men like me will become rarer and rarer; and, one day, there will be no need for us at all.

Still, though, focused on the present, we make a good living tracking the gargantuan fowl. Once you find one, then you and your team have got to bring him down. The claws at the end of those perilous three toes can rip the innards of a man completely out with only a glancing blow. You worry about the beak, expecting him to nip your head off or pry though your chest and eat the heart – only to have the feet whip around and slit you into three definable pieces. You stay on the balls of your feet. You look for the sway of the coxcomb to warn you of a change in movement. You feel the breath of the feathers.

We have lost people. Handlers have come back with fewer appendages than they went out with. But just one nine foot chicken dropped can be processed into enough chicken sandwiches to make a man, even the most junior handler, six months of ordinary wages. A processing plant can get more chicken sandwiches out of one of our feral giant chickens than they can with a full load of standard flock chickens. There is less waste, more percentage sandwich meat. With these, the inedible parts get more readily separated out. The byproducts are more manageable. They are proof of the economy of scale.

In my career, I’ve been responsible for at least a quarter million sandwiches; I have been the proud engine for feeding thousands with high quality gargantuan chicken meat, pressed and rehydrated: situated between two white buns, and with any variety of condiments. I think, even under lettuce and onion and sweet sauce, I can tell the wild, tracker provided giant chicken meat from the farmer’s flock of small, yard reared fowl. I look forward to coming back from an expedition and claiming that first chicken sandwich, the sensation of unwrapping it and tossing the paper into the landfill bin: that steam coming off of the fresh meat, and the subtle twang to the taste, that tells me this chicken had been run to ground, hand wrung, pulled back out of the deep woods by men who know the cost of a meal.

Once I worked with a handler who used to talk about chicken legs and chicken wings and chicken breasts. He would opine how just one leg from one of these humongous chickens, grilled, could feed a family of six for a week; and how one breast could last through a summer church social. He would share the size by spreading his hands, use the distance between trees to demonstrate how large he would imagine the entrée might be. He could talk of open fire pits, the mechanics of suspending unprocessed meat, filets you would have to assault with a knife and fork. Sandwiches were not in his veins. He lasted less than one season.

I hope that even deep into the woods, now that eight and nine foot tall gigantic chickens are showing up way too commonly in the very suburbs, there might be twelve or thirteen foot chickens. Chickens we have never gotten to because we were too infatuated with the smaller giants just into the border dark of the lolling unknown. Fowl that could spy on you in your second floor apartment, whose meat could make a processing plant smoke and whirl into the night, providing the blue suited workers welcomed over time.

If we can find such suspected larger prey, imagine how many sandwiches each would produce, how many buns and the vats of condiments that would be consumed. These fowl could be more dangerous, the tracking more hideously involved, the handlers greater in numbers and more likely to demand higher shares. The plants would run night and day and the sandwiches stack up in mounds beneath the heat lamps. All those cotton dry sandwiches! Thousands lying in their warming shelves as we count our bounties and the public stands in line clamoring for more! Pressed meat: with our tracking crews remaining the champions of the hunt, the fearless providers of the feast. A special set of men unwilling to accept the utility of the house flock; men who seek the wild to feed into the grinder; men who still go out into the dark to bring home our processed food foundation.

Little children would bite down feathered in awe.

Ken Poyner saw a huge metal chicken along route 13 on the Eastern Shore, and wrote most of this story that night in a hotel at Chincoteague, in front of a gas fireplace while his wife luxuriated alone in the hot tub. You can have no more dedication to an idea than that. He can be read in Menacing Hedge, The Medulla Review, Silver Blade and several other places.