Here is my confession,
of a memory I cannot shake
I ended lives that were
not mine to take
for the sake
for a twisted blood industry…
Four bright eyed juvenile pheasant hens
scratching around and cheeping
in the dark box on the lab bench…
As trainee nurse in a country vet practice
my job was to kill and cut and sample
and pretend it was nothing.
Perfect, exquisite creatures with
perfect toes and perfect wings
perfectly clueless and unaware
as I pushed a needle into their
perfect breasts and forced through
that awful blue fluid.
It’s shocking how fast those bright eyes glaze.
You can feel the life force flee,
her body limp, toes so soft now.
And my hand trembles with remorse
as I open her up with the scalpel,
afraid I am hurting her as I cut into
her guts and collect the sample.
And then I repeat, until I am faced
with four splayed carcasses.
Their perfect bodies desecrated
soon to be incinerated
alongside beloved dogs
and cats for whom that
blue fluid was merciful release
from slow death and disease
No one mourned those four lost
pheasant hens – except me,
The game bird ‘industry’ consists of so many levels of wrong to me. The rearing and releasing each year of millions of non-native birds onto our countryside for the sake of sport for the privileged, is just crazy. So many pheasants die of so many causes before they are shot, and many are not cleanly killed or even found after being wounded. Many shot birds are not even eaten, and piles of them are sometimes found rotting and going to waste.
This poem speaks of when I was training to be a veterinary nurse. I worked in a rural practice in Oxfordshire and saw things that you wouldn’t see in town: dehorning of goat kids and an alpaca giving birth in our prep room come to mind. But this one time, I was asked to do a ‘routine’ salmonella test on these pheasant chicks (if they tested positive, the whole flock would have to be dispatched). I did it because I was told to but the wrongness of it still lives with me. Being a vet/nurse can be problematic – some are hardened to the things they sometimes have to do, but I think many are not and they carry their sadnesses with them all the time.