Have you ever stopped to consider the qualia of a chicken?
That is to say, how does it feel to be a chicken and how does that differ from our own experiences?
In one respect,
perhaps there is nothing that much different;
a chicken can still see, hear, smell, taste to some degree.
Then consider how it feels to that chicken to see a fox.
To you or I, it is somewhat amusing to see a fox in the middle of your street on the way home from a night out, a sensation of ‘you’re not supposed to be here, but you are doing me no harm, so continue’.
Perhaps even, depending on your level of intoxication, when the fox looks at you that way foxes do,
head tilted and full of questions, there might be a feeling of some sort of kinship,
a bond that goes beyond the mere fact that you’re both outside 174 Blackness Road at 3am on a Sunday morning, and becomes something almost spiritual.
However, for a chicken all of these thoughts would be subverted by an overwhelming sense of ‘aaaaaargggggggghhhhhhh, fox, please don’t eat my children.’
She says she wishes
I could see me
the way she sees
The skin so tight around my elbow,
it looks like it might split open
like an undersized suit jacket,
at least letting some air in,
inflating me to something resembling health,
breathing life back into me.
The knobbly bits of my bones
broader than anything else.
No fat, no protection,
no safety, no comfort;
a skeleton in waiting.
She says some days
it hurts to look at me.
Like a bad Powerpoint effect,
I’m fading away in real time,
she’s waiting for the day
she comes back,
and I’m just gone altogether.
What if you, with all of your human sensibilities and experiences,
were somehow transplanted into the body of a chicken?
You keep your memories, your capabilities for logic, thought, and reason, however well developed they may be, but your impulses are those of chicken nerves,
your senses diffracted through chicken sensory organs.
I wonder, how long does it take to become a chicken once you are in the chicken body. Perhaps, if immediately upon the transmodification you saw a fox,
you would know to panic and worry
in a way that your human self would never have done so,
merely because of the reaction of your chicken body,
or perhaps it would take some time,
some learning that would impact your qualia as you adapted. Perhaps it is like changing school, or changing jobs, where there is a whole new set of rules to learn and you cannot keep acting the way you did before, going to the toilet as you see fit without raising your hand, or microwaving fish in the staff room willy nilly.
Some days I wish she could see me,
the way I see me. If she was thrust into
would she see the pounds I see,
but no-one else seems to.
Is it simply my eyes? They say
the camera adds ten pounds,
and maybe they have been transformed
through a photographic memory of my own flaws
to add twenty combined.
If she saw me through my eyes,
would she have the same impulse to rip,
and grab at folds, to tear chunks of flesh like
a wolf that had turned on itself. If she saw me,
the way I see me,
would she ever want to see me again?
Some days, I wonder how much easier
my life would be
if I were a chicken.
Some days I wish I could give myself over to the fox.
About this poem
This poem was chosen by Hugh McMillan as part of the Scottish Poetry Library’s ‘Champions’ project, a guest curatorship programme to help extend our national reach.
Hugh McMillan says, ‘Scott struggled with this commission more than he expected, because he was initially diverted by the idea of a love poem to the Marvel superhero Vision, eventually abandoning the idea when he realised Vision was the dullest Avenger by far. Instead, he decided to combine a vague idea about the concept of qualia he had initially had for a novel he was attempting to write about solipsism and loneliness (He is a philosophy graduate), and his issues with eating. “I have long suffered with anorexia and bulimia,” he says, “and it literally changes how I see myself, in an incorrect way as I have long been told, but can never quite believe.” From there, this poem appeared.’