This is something I wrote for an assignment this week.
Roberta Dahlin, 11/08
One turkey furls its feathers like porcupine quills, holding its breath until its comb and whole head turn blue. The head of another snakes out to grab your coat zipper. It lurches when you catch it, flapping and flailing its bulk against you. Scaly, off-white feet with sharp nails scramble to tear something, and warmth comes through your gloves where you grip near the wing joints.
We don’t use a chopping block and a bloody axe anymore, with poultry running around headlessly colliding with things. For turkeys, we have five gallon buckets set up with holes in the bottom that their heads stick out. Getting them into the buckets is the hard part; then, wings held tight against their bodies, they die patiently, throats cut and blood dripping to the ground.
Once dead, they are cleaned, from the huge drum with rubber fingers that remove most of the feathers, to the long silver table with flashing knives, to the oval tanks deep with icy water where the birds rinse and soak until completely cool.
It comes out stiff and clean and white, and drips while we check for missed pin-feathers and bruises. We close it up in a big plastic bag and set it on the scale, marking the weight on the plastic with a sharpie.
The Monday before Thanksgiving is one of the longest days of the year. Fingers ache in the morning air setting things up and catching the birds, and we’re cold to the bone by evening. Knives cut through skin, flesh, gizzards and joints, and we swipe them across stones and steels to re-sharpen them. We’re spattered with blood, feathers spun out of the picker, and little bits of white fat, but you don’t hose one another off in 20 or 30-degree weather. The radio gives out scratchy songs that we sing along with or make fun of. Some of us won’t stop for lunch unless they can be done and in clean clothes; others scrub to the elbow and forget the gore long enough to recharge with coffee, chocolate and food. As we work, we talk. We talk about people, quote movie after movie, play matchmaker, plan Christmas shopping and food, and tell horrible jokes.
This is part of our Thanksgiving tradition, the turning of turkey the beast into turkey the feast.