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Kay Ryan's "Home to Roost"

Updated on October 8, 2017
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After I fell in love with Walter de la Mare's "Silver" in Mrs. Edna Pickett's sophomore English class, circa 1962, poetry became my passion.

Kay Ryan


Kay Ryan's "Home to Roost"

The chickens
are circling and
blotting out the
day. The sun is
bright, but the
chickens are in
the way. Yes,
the sky is dark
with chickens,
dense with them.
They turn and
then they turn
again. These
are the chickens
you let loose
one at a time
and small—
various breeds.
Now they have
come home
to roost—all
the same kind
at the same speed.

Ryan reading her poem, "Home to Roost"


Former U.S. poet laureate (2008-2010), Kay Ryan writes clever, little ditties that offer a distinctive reading experience.

The old aphorism, chickens coming home to roost, is often employed by those who wish to castigate the behavior of others, for example after President John F. Kennedy was assassinated, Malcolm X remarked that the event was merely an example of "chickens coming home to roost."

Malcolm X believed that Kennedy had failed to stop racial violence and therefore he reaped the blighted harvest of that failure; chickens coming home to roost is an alternative metaphor for "you reap what you sow."

Thus employing the expression "chickens coming home to roost" reflects the universal law of cause and effect, reaping and sowing, and karma.

Mental Sky Dense with Past Mistakes

The speaker's mind is the metaphorical sky which is dense with those chickens on their way to her mental roost. The thoughts keep twisting and moving in her mind, as those birds would "turn and / then they turn / again."

The speaker then remarks that they are those very mistakes that she committed in the past; she made each mistake one at a time. She admits to making numerous errors but asserts that they all were small yet varied.

After having experienced a number of years since having made all kinds of mistakes, she reports that, "Now they have / come home / to roost." And now they are all the same, and they are arriving with the "same speed."

Although they were small errors when she first committed them, they have matured and returned to her all grown up and all at once. They are now approaching so thickly that they continue to blot out her mental sky.

The speaker cannot see any present joy because of all of those dark chickens arriving. Once they hit the roost, she will then have another stage of her life to contend with, no doubt hoping she can avoid sending forth any more baby chicks that will indubitably have to return again at some time in the future.

Even Though Chickens Can't Fly

Ryan's speaker in "Home to Roost" has a clever take on that old saw. The opening image has the chickens overhead "circling and / blotting out the / day." Chickens, of course, are not capable of such a flight.

Their wings allow them only a modicum of flying ability. In fact, their wings do little more than help them jump from one place to another. But the fantasy flight of these chickens works marvelously here.

They are, of course, metaphorical chickens that represent all of the mistakes and missteps of the speaker. On this day when "[t]he sun is bright / but the / chicken are in / the way," she is forced to realize that her life's errors are clouding her mental skies.

And they are so thick that "the sky is dark / with chickens"; thus, she is finding thinking about anything pleasant very difficult because of the intrusion of the thoughts of all of her past errors.

© 2016 Linda Sue Grimes


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