The Astronomical Hen

By Cynthia Zarin b. 1959 Cynthia Zarin
Like hearts marked out but not yet colored in,   
Each of her feathers has a black edge,   
as if an India-ink mantilla stretched

from uncleaved neck to her fantail. The pen,   
homemade, spilled some darkness now and then.   
She doesn’t lack for suitors. Poor rooster,

who pours his own loud heart out to her,   
surely his begging does no more than force   
her to peck out a crooked tattoo in the dirt

of the pen. Is she stumped, sad, anorexic?   
It’s perfectly clear she doesn’t lay eggs.   
Can it be she’s simply in love with herself?

Her eye obsidian, eye of the world,
at night she watches the stars drop from shelf   
to shelf, to minor études she unfurls

in her head. By day she hunts and re-pecks   
the pinprick holes of her intricate sketch.   
If she’s done by dusk the first stars can rise.

Cynthia Zarin, “The Astronomical Hen” from The Watercourse. Copyright © 2002 by Cynthia Zarin. Used by permission of Alfred A. Knopf, a division of Random House, Inc.

Source: The Watercourse (Alfred A. Knopf, 2002)

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Poet Cynthia Zarin b. 1959

Subjects Pets, Relationships


Cynthia Zarin is a poet, journalist, and children’s book author. She earned a BA at Harvard and an MFA Columbia University, and has taught at Yale. Poet-in-residence at the Cathedral of St. John the Divine, she has also been a long-time contributor to the New Yorker. Known for her exacting language, Ernest Hilbert noted that Zarin “composes formal, meditative poems that remind the reader of Elizabeth Bishop and Richard Wilbur.” . . .

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Poems by Cynthia Zarin

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SUBJECT Pets, Relationships

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Originally appeared in Poetry magazine.

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