We Had Seen a Pig

By Marvin Bell b. 1937 Marvin Bell

One man held the huge pig down   
and the other stuck an ice pick   
into the jugular, which is when   
we started to pay attention.
The blood rose ten feet with force   
while the sow swam on its back   
as if to cut its own neck.
Its fatty back smacked the slippery   
cement while the assassins shuffled   
to keep their balance, and the bloody   
fountain rose and fell back and rose   
less and less high, until
the red plume reentered the pig
at the neck, and the belly collapsed   
and the pig face went dull.


I knew the pig
was the butcher’s, whose game   
lived mainly behind our garage.   
Sometimes turkeys, always
roosters and sheep. Once the windmill   
turned two days without stopping.   
The butcher would walk in his apron   
straight for the victim. The others   
would scratch and babble
and get in the way.
Then the butcher would lead the animal   
to the back door of his shop,
stopping to kill it on a stump.
It was always evening, after closing.
The sea breeze would be rising,
cloaking the hour in brine.


The pig we saw slaughtered   
was more than twice anything   
shut up in the patch
we trespassed to make havoc.   
Since the butcher was Italian,   
not Jewish, that would be his pig.   
Like the barber who carried   
a cigar box of bets
to the stationery store, like   
the Greek who made sweets   
and hid Greek illegals,
immigrant “submarines,”
the butcher had a business, his   
business, by which he took
from our hands the cleaver and serrated
knife for the guts,
and gave us back in butcher paper   
and outer layers of brown wrapping
our lives for their cries.


Hung up to drain, the great pig,
hacked into portions,
looked like a puzzle
we could put together in the freezer
to make a picture of
a pig of course, a map, clothes or other things   
when we looked.

Marvin Bell, “We Had Seen a Pig” from Nightworks: Poems 1962-2000. Copyright © 2000 by Marvin Bell. Reprinted with the permission of Copper Canyon Press, P. O. Box 271, Port Townsend, WA 98368-0271, www.coppercanyonpress.org

Source: Nightworks: Poems 1962-2000 (Copper Canyon Press, 2000)

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Poet Marvin Bell b. 1937

POET’S REGION U.S., Midwestern

Subjects Relationships, Pets

 Marvin  Bell


American poet and critic Marvin Bell "is a poet of the family. He writes of his father, his wives, his sons, and himself in a dynamic interaction of love and loss, accomplishment, and fear of alienation. These are subjects that demand maturity and constant evaluation. A complete reading of Bell's canon shows his ability to understand the durability of the human heart. Equally impressive is his accompanying technical . . .

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Poem Categorization

SUBJECT Relationships, Pets

POET’S REGION U.S., Midwestern

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Originally appeared in Poetry magazine.

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