Saturday, 08 August 2020

American Life in Poetry: Butchering

Ted Kooser. Photo credit: UNL Publications and Photography.

Now and then, I get a complaint from one of our readers saying that what we publish isn’t poetry because it doesn’t rhyme.

Actually, we’ve published quite a lot of poetry with rhymes—end-rhymes, half-rhymes, internal rhymes, and now and then a sonnet, if that sonnet is a fine poem, too.

And here’s one of those by Rhina P. Espaillat, a New Englander, from her book “And After All,” published by Able Muse Press.

Butchering

My mother’s mother, toughened by the farm,
hardened by infants’ burials, used a knife
and swung an axe as if her woman’s arm
wielded a man’s hard will. Inured to life
and death alike, “What ails you now?” she’d say
ungently to the sick. She fed them, too,
roughly but well, and took the blood away—
and washed the dead, if there was that to do.
She told us children how the cows could sense
when their own calves were marked for butchering,
and how they lowed, their wordless eloquence
impossible to still with anything—
sweet clover, or her unremitting care.
She told it simply, but she faltered there.


American Life in Poetry does not accept unsolicited manuscripts. It is made possible by The Poetry Foundation, publisher of Poetry magazine. It is also supported by the Department of English at the University of Nebraska, Lincoln. Poem copyright ©2019 by Rhina P. Espaillat, "Butchering," from And After All, (Able Muse Press, 2019). Poem reprinted by permission of Rhina P. Espaillat and the publisher. Introduction copyright @2020 by The Poetry Foundation. The introduction’s author, Ted Kooser, served as United States Poet Laureate Consultant in Poetry to the Library of Congress from 2004-2006.

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