The Poet's Perspective: 'The Roast Chicken' considers loneliness

October 12, 2010

Robin Becker, the 2010-11 Penn State laureate and professor of English and women's studies at the University, is sharing several of her poems via video during the 2010-11 academic year, aiming to engage people "in the deep pleasures of poetry -- language crafted and shaped from words, the 'ordinary' material we all use every day," to explore how and why poems move us.

"The Poet's Perspective" is a weekly poetry video series scheduled to appear during the fall 2010 and spring 2011 semesters on Penn State Live and in Penn State Newswires. Prior to each poem, Becker offers her thoughts about what inspired her to write the piece, then poses a question to consider. Below and in the video link of "The Roast Chicken," Becker examines the condition of loneliness.

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When the speaker in this poem sits down, alone, to eat her dinner, she finds herself musing on solitude, self-pity, family relations, neighbors planting flower bulbs and an old flame. A self-mocking humor pervades the poem, even as the speaker ruefully acknowledges that her failure to "take a chance" has landed her in her current plight.

Question to consider: How might a self-mocking attitude or tone illuminate a situation in which you find yourself or give you some "room" for a humorous approach to a serious topic?

The Roast Chicken

When I set the roast chicken in the center
of the table and sat down, alone, to eat,
I understood the meaning of my life. That morning
when I squirted the lousy Cambridge water
into the coffee pot, I knew why my sister
took her life. The first night I ate
the roast chicken in honor of couples,
in honor of the labor and elegance of compromise.
The second night I ate the roast chicken weeping
with self-pity, because I had no partner to designate
on my health plan form, should I become incapacitated,
my life sustained solely by machines.
The third night I picked at the chicken
and considered how my life has been a flight
from family, and how I've arrived
at middle age without one.
Who will remember with me the old North Broad Street
train station? Who will bike with me to the drug store
in Mount Airy for my sister's medication? Who will know
the hatred I harbored for my father
who could not tolerate noise, and who will love me
now that I have become him, a person
who cannot tolerate noise? Who will ask me
about the Saturdays I wandered around Chestnut Hill
my senior year in high school
with a little money in my pocket,
looking at earrings and
developing expensive tastes?
Now I watch my neighbors kneeling
in the early November cold to plant
their spring bulbs. Their faith amazes me,
for today I understand that by such deeds
human goodness is recognized.
All week, the brick streets of Cambridge
have been saying goodbye, quietly, hushed
by leaves, like a lover who knows it's over
and speaks kindly, finally, in a cafe
before she disappears. And you're left
knowing that she was your best chance,
though she would say
your best chances are the ones you take.

"The Roast Chicken" is from All-American Girl, by Robin Becker, © 1996. All rights are controlled by the University of Pittsburgh Press, Pittsburgh, PA 15260. Used by permission of the publisher.

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Robin Becker will visit several Penn State Commonwealth Campuses this fall; view her schedule of appearances at http://live.psu.edu/story/47796 online. To read or watch videos of previous poems in the series, click here. To listen to an occasional podcast series where Becker and a small group of students and faculty discuss one of her poems, visit "Liberal Arts Voices."

  • Robin Becker reads her poem 'The Roast Chicken' in the Pasquerilla Spiritual Center on the University Park campus. Click on the image to watch the video.

    IMAGE: Penn State

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Last Updated November 18, 2010