November 29, 2008

"Taking the Lambs to Market"

Butcher shop in Pinole, California. "Clarence Faria's Uncle Manuel, owner, on the right."

Fragments of Maxine Kumin's Taking the Lambs to Market have appeared in a number of links recently: here, for instance, in a fine essay on sheep, local slaughterhouses, USDA inspections and small-farm economics by Bill Fosher.

So I thought I'd post the whole thing. From the collection Looking for Luck:

Taking the Lambs to Market

All due respect to the blood on his bandsaw,
table, hands and smock, Amos is an artist.

We bring him something living, breathed, furred
and meet it next in a bloodless sagittal section.

No matter how we may deplore his profession
all of us are eating, even Keats

who said, If a Sparrow come before my Window
I take part in its existence and pick
about the Gravel
, but dined on mutton.

Amos, who custom cuts and double wraps
in white butcher paper whatever we named,
fed, scratched behind the ear, deserves our praise:

a decent man who blurs the line of sight
between our conscience and our appetite.

And one I've posted before and will no doubt post again: Meat, by Thom Gunn.
My brother saw a pig root in a field,
And saw too its whole lovely body yield
To this desire which deepened out of need
So that in wriggling through the mud and weed
To eat and dig were one athletic joy.
When we who are the overlords destroy
Our ranging vassals, we can therefore taste
The muscle of delighted interest
We make into ourselves, as formerly
Hurons digested human bravery.

Not much like this degraded meat — this meal
Of something, was it chicken, pork, or veal?
It tasted of the half-life that we raise
In high bright tombs which, days, and nights like days,
Murmur with nervous sound from cubicles
Where fed on treated slop the living cells
Expand within each creature forced to sit
Cramped with its boredom and its pile of shit
Till it is standard weight for roast or bacon
And terminated, and its place is taken.

To make this worth a meal you have to add
The succulent liberties it never had
Of leek, and pepper fruiting in its climb,
The redolent adventures dried in thyme
Whose branches creep and stiffen where they please,
Or rosemary that shakes in the world's breeze.

1 comment:

Bill Fosher said...

I feel compelled to point out that Maxine Kumin is a New Hampshire poet. And she really has raised lambs. A fellow shepherd in the woods. (More of a horse woman, really, but ...)