HILDEGARD BLEW in on a late summer storm. Sleek and ebony, eyes a bright chatoyant gold. Between the Supercans and downed tree limbs, she was scratching up worms, plucking at bugs. In this nation’s capital of a little more than 600,000 souls, a loose hen was highly unusual—but there she was, in all her Gallus gallus domesticus glory.
Of course, she didn’t arrive with the name Hildegard. And certainly not Hildegard von Chicken, after a favorite Rhineland mystic. That came later. After she’d been interviewed and photographed for the DCist news blog; after she’d become a destination point for recently migrated hipsters; and after a woman running for local office asked if she could take Hildegard on the campaign stump to make her candidacy “more memorable.”
Hildegard received her name after a chance encounter with La Señora at the 11th street bus stop. “I rescued a chicken,” I told her. “What color?” she shot back.
La Señora is in her 70s and from Paraguay. She is knowledgeable about many things. “Black ... with a green undersheen,” I said. “This is very good. You have most likely rescued it from a religious ritual where it would be sacrificed for evil intentions.” “Wow!” I replied. “What should I do?” La Señora stared at me a moment: “You must pray the rosary with the chicken. Hold her and pray the rosary.”
THIS WAS THE series of curious events that led to my being perched on porch steps on a hill in the imperial city of Washington, D.C., holding my grandmother’s rosary and praying with a chicken, whose name I decided should be Hildegard, “Sybil of 11th Street,” because she was consulted by so many of high and low estate.