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Michael Perry: Revisiting the source

Michael Perry: Revisiting the source


Our rooster managed to escape the fence and now can’t figure out how to get back in. I don’t feel sorry for him because he is an unlikable fellow given to preening, false bravado and egotistical uselessness who eats feed but doesn’t lay eggs. We shoulda stuffed him in a stewpot long ago, but I keep him around as a feathered barometer to monitor my own character; when I note my demeanor beginning to overlap his, it’s time to correct course. I have been known to lay both metaphorical and artistical eggs, and I regularly eat more feed than I’ve earned.

When I arrived to do the feeding and watering this morning, there he was, clucking and tut-tutting outside the run. “Don’t know what to tell ya, bud,” I said. “You made your choices.” Talking to chickens is standard operating procedure around here. They’re not great listeners, but they are physically unable to roll their eyes, thus sparing me a most common reaction when I get to babbling on the home front. I left the gate open to see if he’d re-enter while I distributed the scratch grains, but he was so focused on running territorial laps and interrupting himself to crow that he failed to note the opening. So I closed it and let the hens out of the coop. As I walked away he was crowing through the fence at the chickens within, assuring them that although out of bounds, he was still the boss.

In my office there is a book approximately the dimensions of a box of doughnuts. It is a motivational tome composed by one of those professionally inspirational multi-platform one-percent-body-fat 300 IQ overachievers (or at least his “team”) who spout just enough bullet points to get you to buy the book, but nowhere near enough bullet points to fill the book without a lotta rhetorical padding (I know the feeling).

Nonetheless, its heft conveys commitment, especially the first day of the rest of your life when you sit down with it and resolve to finally get yourself in gear. This weekend I paged through it for the first time in over a year. I was moved to do so by a discussion I’d had with my cousin Steve — an actual achiever — about books that had been a help to him. I brushed the very literal dust off the cover, placed it atop my laptop to establish scale, snapped a photo of it with my phone, then texted the photo to Steve with the following caption: “I don’t read it, just lift it three times, hit a protein shake, and ROLL.”

This earned me a ROFL. I was about to follow up by snarking that of all the book’s 675 pages, I had benefited from maybe three, when I randomly opened it and there on the page was a section I’d incorporated into my daily routine since the day I read it. Dedicated to my disdain, I’d completely forgotten that one of those bullet points had actually struck home.

Don’t get me wrong. That book is still mostly filler. The bullet point was a mild dietary thing. But I moved the book over beside my reading chair again. Tonight when I close up the coop I’ll leave the gate open. Come morning I expect that rooster will have found his way in. “Newsflash, bud,” I’ll say. “Sometimes if we stop crowing long enough to revisit the source, we help ourselves in spite of ourselves.”

The hens will ignore us.

An original “Roughneck Grace” column exclusive to the Wisconsin State Journal. Audio versions may air on “Tent Show Radio” ( Read more from Michael Perry at

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