Most of them worked around the slaughtering

out the back, where concrete gutters

crawled off

heavily, and the hot, fertilizer-thick,

sticky stench of blood

sent flies mad,

but I settled for one of the lowest-paid jobs, making mince,

the furthest end from those bellowing,

sloppy yards. Outside, the pigs’ fear

made them mount one another

at the last minute. I stood all day

by a shaking metal box

that had a chute in, and a spout,

snatching steaks from a bin they kept refilling

pushing them through

arm-thick corkscrews, grinding around inside it, meat or not—

chomping, bloody mouth—

using a greasy stick

shaped into a penis.

When I grabbed it the first time

it slipped, slippery as soap, out of my hand,

in the machine

that gnawed it hysterically a few moments

louder and louder, then, shuddering, stopped;

fused every light in the shop.

Too soon to sack me—

it was the first thing I’d done.

For a while, I had to lug gutted pigs

white as swedes

and with straight stick tails

to the ice rooms, hang them by the hooves

on hooks—their dripping

solidified like candle-wax—or pack a long intestine

with sausage meat.

We got meat to take home—

bags of blood;

red plastic with the fat showing through.

We’d wash, then

out on the blue metal

toward town; but after sticking your hands all day

in snail-sheened flesh,

you found, around the nails, there was still blood.

I usually didn’t take the meat.

I’d walk home on

the shiny, white-bruising beach, in mauve light,

past the town.

The beach, and those startling, storm-cloud mountains, high

beyond the furthest fibro houses, I’d come

to be with. (The only work

was at this Works.)—My wife

carried her sandals, in the sand and beach grass,

to meet me. I’d scoop up shell-grit

and scrub my hands,

treading about

through the icy ledges of the surf

as she came along. We said that working with meat was like

burning-off the live bush

and fertilizing with rottenness,

for this frail green money.

There was a flaw to the analogy

you felt, but one

not looked at, then—

the way those pigs stuck there, clinging onto each other.


Notes on the Poem