Butchers

By C. K. Williams b. 1936
1
Thank goodness we were able to wipe the Neanderthals out, beastly things,
from our mountains, our tundra—that way we had all the meat we might need.

Thus the butcher can display under our very eyes his hands on the block,
and never refer to the rooms hidden behind where dissections are effected,

where flesh is reduced to its shivering atoms and remade for our delectation
as cubes, cylinders, barely material puddles of admixtured horror and blood.

Rembrandt knew of all this—isn’t his flayed beef carcass really a caveman?
It’s Christ also, of course, but much more a troglodyte such as we no longer are.

Vanished those species—begone!—those tribes, those peoples, those nations—
Myrmidon, Ottoman, Olmec, Huron, and Kush: gone, gone, and goodbye.

2
But back to the chamber of torture, to Rembrandt, who was telling us surely
that hoisted with such cables and hung from such hooks we too would reveal

within us intricate layerings of color and pain: alive the brush is with pain,
aglow with the cruelties of crimson, the cooled, oblivious ivory of our innards.

Fling out the hooves of your hands! Open your breast, pluck out like an Aztec
your heart howling its Cro-Magnon cries that compel to battles of riddance!

Our own planet at last, where purged of wilderness, homesickness, prowling,
we’re no longer compelled to devour our enemies’ brains, thanks to our butcher,

who inhabits this palace, this senate, this sentried, barbed-wire enclosure
where dare enter none but subservient breeze; bent, broken blossom; dry rain.

Source: Poetry (April 2011).

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This poem originally appeared in the April 2011 issue of Poetry magazine

April 2011
 C. K. Williams

Biography

Hailed by poet Paul Muldoon in the Times Literary Supplement as “one of the most distinguished poets of his generation,” C.K. Williams has created a highly respected body of work, including several collections of original poems, volumes of translations, a book of criticism and a memoir. Williams is especially known as an original stylist; his characteristic line is extraordinarily long, almost prose-like, and emphasizes . . .

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Poem Categorization

SUBJECT Living, The Body, Nature, Animals, Arts & Sciences, Painting & Sculpture

POET’S REGION U.S., Mid-Atlantic

Poetic Terms Couplet, Free Verse, Series/Sequence

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