From Pens to Pen

Former farmer Debbie Johnson-Hill trades in her chickens for poetry.

After years of chicken farming, Debbie Johnson-Hill, aka “the chicken
whisperer,” knew she needed a career change. “I loved raising chicken,” she
says. “But I realized the amount of time, effort and funds required for such a
large flock was keeping me from very important life goals.”

Johnson-Hill, who started writing poetry at age 12, has found success in her
new career venture. In addition to pursuing a BFA in creative writing at Hamline
University, her poem “Harry,” inspired by a friend’s dog, was submitted to
American Public Media’s Writer’s Almanac and published in the online journal,
Atrium Magazine
. She is now working on a collection of poems. Read one of her latest poems,“Harry,” below.


My friend called to say
she’s driving her mother
with her dog Harry
to the animal hospital.

She didn’t say what ails the canine,
sharing instead her mother’s choosing
to pass the time on her cell,
making chit chat
with her boyfriend

as poor, miserable Harry
lay languishing on the stiff back seat,
hardly raising his head
or mournful eyes.

She said, my friend, not the mother,
this all seemed perfectly normal,
until her mother said to the boyfriend,

“Couldn’t you just talk to Harry?
Hearing your voice might make him feel better.”

So the mother, not the friend,
cradled the phone close
to the pooch’s long, slender ear,
and the two listened
as boyfriend talked to Harry.

“It’s ok boy.  You’ll be ok.
Good dog.  Good boy.”

And Harry listened but didn’t lift
his sorrowful head from the red vinyl seat,
his eyes seemed to say to mother, boyfriend, friend-
Good god, it’s all come to this.