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Gerasene Farm

gerasene

– for D.F.

“What do you want with me…?”
“We pigs are brainworkers.” – Napoleon
“Who is going to save me?” – Wilbur

Sundays during slaughter time, when work and days
Are a matter of acres and seasons, pink flesh
And exposed blue-white bone

Are surely signs of progress—satisfaction—fertility.
And when autumn begins to spit snow from its mouth
We’ll fire up the fifty-gallon drums for boiling skin

From the herd. With our blue knuckles now scalded red
We’re allowed to pretend we know Odysseus’s swineherd.
He’s a neighbor, say, who might need to borrow a pritch,

Lend his spare block-and-tackle or resharpen a bell scraper
On our millstone.
                             And that’s when Monsignor comes by to bless it all
One bullet at a time. It doesn’t take long after we call

And he’s there almost immediately.
                                                        There’s no dying soul,
No family grief; it’s all just business. “Tail
To snout” he likes to say, quoting from some other good book.

So Monsignor takes off the blacks and Roman collar
This Sunday, leaves them back at the rectory
And dons red buffalo plaid and tattered bibs.

“Scares the devil out of the herd,” I once heard him explain
“Don’t like black or maybe they just know.”
                                                                  Flexibility
Is one of his strong points.
                                            This day is full of a sky

Afflicted with a tin-foil glare from broken clouds—
It’s the day he’s chosen to come help because
He generally likes the business

And specifically on a Sunday. “Not unnecessary work.
A form of relaxation, I would call it.”
He grew up downwind of a giant swine operation

And of course raised his own and has some opinions on swine.
He knows his pig flesh, alright, the way
A horse trader knows teeth and hoofs.

Monsignor lowers the blue-barreled gun,
A pistol without history – it knows neither wars nor duels
But only a resting place between hunting seasons.

He stares the hogs down, and anoints
Their lives with purpose, cruel
For business, and kind but for no kind of fun.

Afterwards, he walks back to his car
To clean the muzzle and chamber.
                                                       Throats cut, they wait
With us for his return.
                                    We don’t let him near the boiling pot.

He’s no good at that part.
                                           But he has a great eye
For parting flesh with a .45.
                                          And maybe for that reason he was made a Monsignor,

But when he scalds the flesh he scrapes too much flesh with the hair
And very little hair with the flesh.
                                               We politely
Put him off to visit with the children

Or maybe put a beer in his hand and tell him to rest a bit,
Though rest isn’t in his nature anymore than
It is in the clouds that scud like corpuscles across the sky.

He was born on a farm and to hear him tell it he fought
Half the day with earth and flesh, the other half,
All blood work.
                                If given half a chance he could shine

Like the best of rural vicars and squires.
At any rate, his place in literature
May one day be secure—

Interpolating experience and innocence
With marksmanship and common sense:
“Pigs are a good investment—nothing wasted if you do it right.

Efficiency is in the nature of swine.”
“Why else,” Monsignor would add, “would the desperate demons
Of Gerasene plead with our Lord. ‘Let’s get the hell out of here!’

You can almost hear them say. It must have been a favor,
Well, maybe not a favor; more a false mercy, for our Lord
To provide that herd, that cliff, the sea beneath.

But there’s no mercy for demons, of course. That’s a figure
Of speech is all. Literature is full of them. But Scripture
Only uses it on purpose. No levity with that sort of business.”

Literature, indeed, I nod. Napoleon and Wilbur
Might talk past each other among the cold clouds
That gather and disperse in winter configurations above our heads.

But also in the sense that fictional pigs make of life and death.
It’s all fantastic friendships for nostalgia’s sake
Or a drudging work detail

To serve as footstool for naked power—
Pink flesh and blue-white bone for them—and sometimes for us.
But Monsignor? He doesn’t even bother to say–

And he gives it no more thought
Than a man of the cloth ought to be
Expected to do:

We watch him hold the pistol like an aspergillum.
And he anoints them both—Wilbur and Napoleon—
With one shot.

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Upstate, a weekend away from college,
Your roommate’s sister joined our coterie –
What boys define as men. With foliage
For fashion, the sunlight fading early
Became her figure’s fugue – so perfect, picturesque
In autumn, earthy, delicately picaresque.

The camera, tomorrow says, can’t lie:
About her marble skin, her hair a nest
Of robin’s wings – her emerald eyes rely
Upon arresting candor, prepossessed
As bees that flirt with failing thorn and dying rose –
But stuck in time, she strikes an adolescent pose.

Each minute, yesterday replies, construes
The truth of lies and strips from silks to flesh
What Madison Ave. only rues
But cannot refute. Context’s textile mesh
Imbeds in memory the silken worm of love,
But head cajoled the heart – till both could not believe

The evening air, so sharp and tang with leaves
In burning piles somewhere beyond the light
Of bonfires. Flame’s dancing logic still gives
Her face the look of truth while smoke and night
Still infiltrate her sweater’s cabled virgin wool:
It’s cold. She shivers, holds her hands in twilit fall –

And suddenly she looked at you across
The flame. You’d nursed your whisky flask to death;
Your eyes surmount their diffidence and toss
A glance her way. October steals your breath –
But dropping hands, she lets her eyes return to earth.
You wonder now what mocking god had given birth

To time and seasons. Heading back to school,
You thought about what could have been. You saw
Her once again – a final time – the cool
Of autumn giving way to winter’s raw
Emotion. Bundled up, she walked the whitened quad,
Her eyes as green as ever. Wink had passed by nod,

Your mute and shared admission fall occurred
At all. You turned to watch her slip away
Through snow that fell across the campus, blurred
Her lines, and failed to capture or portray
What, later, flying colors testified with lens
And film: that time and seasons hold no circumstance

With beauty’s rising smoke that, metal-blue,
Had veiled the milky spray of stars back then
When whiskey, fall and fire were all you knew –
Her fickle fame and fey adrenaline
Were waiting for the future, undeveloped prints
That cozened marketplace collateral. But since

That time, her rites of spring draw out modesty
In pencil skirts; her winter duffle makes
Its quilt-lined obsequies; her summers free
Bikini, brief and thong. But memory speaks
At last and turns the page to whiskey, fall and fire. You learn
For the first time: she’s autumn smoke, an ache, that burn

Of pure emotion, spilling now like ink
Across the colored capture, blotting out
The years, renewing face and form. To think
You knew her once so young. Without a doubt
Her eyes retain that fabled age of innocence –
What took J.Crew’s fall preview to experience.