Forced Labour

For Charles Patterson
Translated from the Hebrew by Lisa Katz


Only Sunday strollers and bicycle riders will notice

the strange facility concealed among vines and fields —

a long barracks surrounded by barbed wire, a guard stationed

at the electric gate.

It’s late.  The second night watch.

The villagers sleep. Only a few small foxes

and nocturnal birds to witness the sight.

The lord of the eggs rechecks the voltage

in the electrified fence.

He directs the trucks filled with cages,

hurrying the Thai workers

discharged to load the sick and the old

squeezed to lay all they can.

Hard to say when they become fowl.

This poem is not about chickens

pecking in the troughs, coxcombs trembling in light

which is neither day nor night

or birds piled one on top of another, their necks

twisting through the bars

to gasp the feathery sparks

in egg-white moonlight.

And even if it is, it doesn’t fly in the face

of the people who pass through the gate

to the factory store in the morning

under the cheery ‘Hatchery House’ sign

with the drawing of a plump brooder,

buying extra large eggs

nicely arranged in a carton.

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