Sestina with Rotisserie Chicken | Alison Thumel

3 mins read

In a cafe this morning I jammed my toast with a knife
as I listened to a pair discuss how to brand comfort,
one of them maintaining that good design is dependent
on making the comfortable thing look less so. She meant
comfort is ungraceful, like wearing clogs, but brands need
to appeal to beautiful women who also feed the chickens. 

He sipped, bored, jiggled a knee, but she did not check in.
I was failing at a poem. My scrawling along the knife’s
edge of the margin turned out to be a list of what I need:
paper towels, oil change, call X—mundane comforts
of a future. More of interest is what people seem to mean
when they perceive my need, the sort of lack that depends 

on context, the way everything always seems to depend
on something else. Last week I received a rotisserie chicken
from my neighbor. He rang the bell of my apartment
cradling the steamy plastic shell. Ever since that night
I’ve tried to recognize what he saw in me, to confront
myself through his crooked blinds, my apparent need 

reddening on my cheeks as I turned the deadbolt. Needlessly
I worry about such things, as if it wounds my independence.
Yesterday I texted “good to get out of myself,” discomfited
that I more likely meant “out of my house.” I let the chicken
wilt in my fridge for five days before I carved it with a knife,
wondering whether, for context, it is worth mentioning 

that on three past birthdays I have been gifted blades meant
for utility, though I arrange them separate from my need,
the way I separate myself from it: as if a bouquet of knives
can also function. On every birthday, I am dependable
in my need for nothing. No new severances. The chicken
is gone now. I picked the carcass with my nails, comfortably 

sated, the bones scraped clean. I feel a similar comfort
at the echo I hear every night through an open casement,
my neighbor repeating, Hallelujah! (Costco, he said of the chicken,
by way of explanation.) I wonder what he’s overheard needling
through his wall: early blender or a vibrator’s whir, depending.
Tonight he left me a paper sack, and in my gut I felt a guilty knife. 

In it, comfort foods: peanut butter, canned peaches. I forgot need
was an echo, your own reflecting back. Its meaning independent
of the chicken. Of the peaches arranged like petals, bright as knives.

Alison Thumel is a 2021-2023 Stegner Fellow. Her poems have appeared in POETRY, Ninth Letter, Adroit, and elsewhere.