(First appeared Fine Madness, Issue 26, 2001, pg 34. And is also in The Soup of Something Missing.)
In the Apartment Above the Butcher Shop
My mother washed dishes in the bathtub
then bathed me and my brother,
set us on the sofa to watch television.
Black and white washed over us.
At the end of each show Mother sat with us
pointing out good people always win in the end.
By the time I was eight I could hear the difference
between a cleaver chopping a flank of beef, leg of lamb
or the thin ear of a pig. You have to be
a butcher’s son to know why this is important.
My father worked for the butcher,
hanging pigs in the window.
Steel hooks through their cut throats.
Mouths open as if they had one more thing to say.
The headless chickens in the cold
box were always gone by noon, an hour earlier
Father wrapped two chickens in wax paper and newspaper,
put them aside until Mother brought his coffee.
My mother shouted
don’t track blood through the kitchen,
when she heard us come up the stairs.
Outside, shadows quietly battled
for control of the streets
-- a sound often mistaken for wind
dragging newspaper along the sidewalk,
a sound we wouldn’t identify for years.