My chicken wasn’t like your chicken.
The cafeteria chef taught me
the right way to coax it out
of the slaughterhouse, before
he stewed and salted it, before
he cooked it again
for the canteen. I’m not saying
I don’t like the chicken here.
The chicken here is deep-
fried and breaded, destined
for stomachs and conveyer belts,
eaten in slices as a child’s
lunch meat. The chicken here
is found fresh or frozen
behind grocery store glass,
seasoned or conscious
about its health benefits.
I didn’t know chicken could be
so much until I moved here.
Poached chicken, broiled chicken,
rotisserie chicken, Kentucky chicken.
And so many parts too.
Chicken nugget, chicken wing,
chicken thigh, chicken breast.
But have you ever seen one alive?
Clutched one by its feathers
and looked it in the eye?
Asked it to behave, told it
Today’s the day he falls in love
with me. No? I didn’t think so.
All the chickens here are dead.
Michelle Tong is a medical student from Milwaukee, Wisconsin. Her poems appear in the Margins, Glass, and JAMA, among others, and she reads for the Bellevue Literary Review. Last summer, she won first prize in the Michael E. DeBakey Medical Student Poetry Awards and received a fellowship from Brooklyn Poets. She teaches poetry at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai and lives in New York.