It’s summer now. The sun sets more reluctantly than at any other time of the year, and as it slowly drops behind the canopy of live oaks and crepe myrtles, my remaining twelve hens drift nearer and nearer to the coop, pecking and scratching along in a lazy, singular unity.
I feel so strongly about these hens. As oblivious as they are to love and anything else that is neither food nor peril, they seem to carry with knowing authority the solutions to all mysteries, as our solutions are somehow in rosary beads, old pots, and June bugs. If they miss Passion, they don’t show it. Somewhere between earthworms and hawks, they carry on, finding the best spots for dust baths and squabbling over the grapes I feed them from my hand, until they inevitably make it home as the sun sets.
And rather than leave an empty space where Passion once perched on the roost, they will scoot closer to each other and fill it in, knowing that the world goes on and knowing — announcing, maybe, as Mary Oliver would say — their place in the family of things.
–Lisa Meaux, 1956-2016, excerpt from “The Birds: Passion” from Entropymag.org
My friend, Lisa Meaux, loved chickens. The above excerpt is from a short story she wrote about a friend and a chicken who both had ovarian cancer. The story is just like Lisa, a mix of the ironic and the tender.
I first met Lisa when I was working on my masters in gifted education. She was the lead teacher in a summer program in which I interned. As the years went by, Lisa found her way to the writing project, and our relationship grew around teaching and writing. Two years ago, she retired and married the love of her life. Little did any of us know that her life would end so soon.
On Saturday, I attended a beautiful gathering to celebrate her life at the Acadiana Center for the Arts. The stage was set with a portrait of Lisa holding one of her chickens. Two teacher-writers from her writing group read from a variety of pieces that told the story of Lisa. Her writing life centered around her love of her home, her animals, and her family. A fitting tribute to her through her own words.
Back in 2009, Lisa, Nettie, and I attended the New Orleans writing marathon. The marathon focus was fiction. I felt like such a novice at fiction writing, but the genre was comfortable to Lisa. I remember she wrote a story about a woman who leaves a piece of her clothing at various places in New Orleans and eventually walks into Lake Pontchartrain completely nude. It was a brilliantly crafted story.
At that retreat, Lisa gave me a gift of a bracelet of blue beads and thus the name for Blessen’s chicken, Blue. If it hadn’t been for Lisa, there would not have been a chicken in my story, or, for that matter, a story at all. She met with me to discuss my book and planted the seed that would become the theme for the book, “Death happens in threes.”
There is an empty space where Lisa lived. Her friends feel it. Her husband feels it. Her students feel it. Unlike her roosting chickens, I am not quite sure how to fill the space that belonged to her. I still struggle to know where I belong in the family of things. But I know this for sure: The world goes on, and I am a better person for having known and loved Lisa Meaux.