(cited in BAE 2015, 2016, 2020, 2022); PUSHCART poetry finalist

Rooster Man

On the way to the demonstration to protest the big-business theft of water from indigenous peoples, I passed by a crowded bus stop and noticed in the clutch of waiting commuters a grimy, disheveled man carrying a magnificent russet and black rooster perched on his forearm, a bird of tremendous dignity and aplomb. A bus pulled up and opened its doors, but the driver would not allow Rooster Man to enter with his companion, and as the #14 pulled away the poor fellow stood at the curb looking forlorn and bewildered.

At the demonstration, a dozen or so of us locked ourselves together in the lobby of the international corporation, chanting and singing anti-corporate, pro-democracy slogans and songs, until the police called the fire department to come and cut the locks and chains. We were hustled into paddy wagons and driven to jail, where they placed us in a holding cell to await further developments.

We called our lawyer from the cell, then waited and waited and waited, first to be ID’d and fingerprinted, then for the wheels to turn, the gears to mesh, the papers to be filed, the court dates to be assigned, our release to be OK’d. The conversation in the cell was energetic – Karl Marx egalitarian society, the end of profit, another world is possible . . . And in the midst of our ideological colloquy, a sheriff’s deputy opened the door to the cell and shoved a new occupant inside – nobody else but Rooster Man, who was highly distraught, weeping and pleading to no one and everyone, “Why did they have to kill my rooster? I don’t know why they killed him. He was my friend.”  We stopped talking revolution and did our best to console him. We learned that he was homeless, that he used his rooster companion to make money for food. From his pocket he pulled out a crumpled handful of clippings with photos of him and the rooster posing with tourists, who’d give him a little cash for the privilege of standing next to man and bird, and a little more if they could hold the rooster themselves. A good story for the folks back home. “We were famous,” he wept as he showed us each of the clippings, “Why did they have to kill him?” He was as heartbroken and baffled as a child who does not understand what he has done wrong. It turned out that when the cops busted him for committing poverty, one of the officers thought it would be funny to whack the rooster with his night stick, dispatching it with a single blow.

Rooster Man (we never learned another name) remained inconsolable, hugging himself, rocking back and forth, moaning, as we waited there all day and well into nighttime to be released. When finally our wallets and our dangerous weapons and our citations for behaving badly were handed to us on the way out of lockup (Rooster Man along with the rest of us), we all pitched in some money to give him before heading to meet up with our legal support team. He shuffled off toward wherever he could find to spend the night, friendless and bereft on the pitiless streets.

Buff Whitman-Bradley is a longtime peace and social justice activist and a writer whose work has appeared in many print and online journals. His interviews with members of the military who refused to fight were the basis of the book About Face: Military Resisters Turn Against War. His podcast of poems about aging, memory and mortality, Third Act Poems, can be heard at He lives in northern California with his wife, Cynthia.


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