Pheasant Plucker by Benjamin Cusden

Pheasant Plucker

I’ve never been a fan of the corpse. As a child
my mother’s tan wool coat would shield me
on butchers’ trips from pigs and lambs hook
hanged, scraped out – silent, xylophone ribs exposed.

Face buried in small of back, eyes squint, nose flat,
repeating ‘LALALA’ – senses diminished to touch.

Tourists drive like arseholes down Cornwall’ s
country lanes. Like unleashed dogs onto ewes
and their babes. Sense left behind with speed limits
and manners in Macclesfield, London or wherever

they’re from. They career around corners without
comprehension of tractors; combines or cows.
Their arrogance, however, sometimes counter tips
in my favour and they leave a surprise behind.

The bird’s fire is doused but its fiery copper breast
burns heavenly on mottled chestnut brown.
It’s carefully tendered into rucksack’s open mouth,
black pulled tight by drawstring, now a secret
on my back, and I become the same as you – a man
on a holiday hike – nothing less, never nothing less.

Birds are not hung in camped woods or held
for long decay, that’s the rich man’s way – plucked
quick, bloodied tail feather totems for homeless
hats; guts separated between edible and unthinkable.

I worked in a kitchen once – before eviction orders,
before living rough on the land – washing dishes,
straining gravy, creating salad for sides.
Prepping roadkill isn’t easy.

Badgers are always off menu and treated with respect.
In death, buried back in the haunting grounds of woods
and copse. Night time’s shy, fierce spirit is given prayers
and a fresh blanket of earth.

But all other fauna, dead or lame, is always fair game.

First published in the Live Canon 2019 Anthology (shortlisted in the top 20 of their International Poetry Prize judged by Zaffar Kunial), October 2019.


Ben has been both an award-winning broadcast television editor in London and homeless within the Cornish countryside – this change in circumstance and the landscapes he’s lived in are often reflected in his poetry.  He was shortlisted for the Bridport Prize in 2016 and is a regular MC for Ruth O’Callaghan’s Lumen and Camden poetry groups, raising money for cold weather shelters for the homeless.



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