butcher-ready pigs: half corpses hanging in a delivery truck

I moved back to the UK some years ago, but the time spent in Spain, and in particular, the years spent en el pueblo, still influence my thoughts. Today, for example is the Feast of the Immaculate Conception, a fact I would never have paid any attention to before living in a Catholic country, but which today has prompted me to feel nostalgic.

When we signed the papers on the house in the village it was early autumn, although we continued to dither between Madrid and the country for quite a while after that. So we were still not really on top of the intricacies of rural life as that first year wound down towards las fiestas de navidad.

The house had a fair-sized plot of land and some 50 trees, which hadn’t been pruned for several years before we moved in. After consulting with los vecinos, we decided to enlist the assistance of El Pipas, a local guy who did odd jobs on several of the neighbouring small holdings. We asked him to come along and prune in the first week of December, but had to adapt our plans to fit in with his prior commitments for la matanza – the pig slaughter.

I haven’t eaten meat for many, many years, but couldn’t avoid the ubiquitous pigs and pig products of Spain. Sometimes it seemed the creatures were divinely omnipresent, but at least in Madrid we weren’t exposed to the actual sacrifice.

El museo del jamón

The Ham Museum is a shrine
to swine: crimson haunches hang
in the swelter of strip lights; fat drips
into inverted plastic cones while
an unobtrusive bustle of bar staff
serve the gathered worshippers.
With ritual gesturing, slim-bladed
knives skim iridescent curves.
Glasses are raised in veneration
of marbled flesh, and wafers
of translucent succulence dissolve
as devotees discuss the mysteries
of the world.

After we’d been living in the pueblo for a few years, we became used to the fact that the neighbourhood pigs were all slaughtered on and around La Inmaculada, a juxtaposition of blood and purity that struck me as noteworthy.

I never did witness a pig slaughter up close, though I heard several and saw the aftermath on a number of occasions, which meant it took me a long time to actually write a poem that seemed credible; this one finally gelled some years after I’d returned to the UK.

La matanza

The rising sun bruises                 cloud on the mountain
Santísima, purísima,                 blessed be thy name
and mist scarves the air             white as a winding sheet
Santísima, purísima,                 blessed be thy name
hollow grapes rattle                    black on the vine
Santísima, purísima,                 blessed be thy name
the brittle earth splinters           under stolid feet
Santísima, purísima,                 blessed be thy name

Our throats constrict                  each breath tastes of metal
Santísima, purísima,                 blessed be thy name
and we gurn at the cold              blear-eyed and yawning
Santísima, purísima,                 blessed be thy name
a blade cuts the air                     a pig’s squeal is silenced
Santísima, purísima,                 blessed be thy name
and blood flows red                    in the white of your morning
Santísima, purísima,                 blessed be thy name.

hook & chain silhouette against sky

Author: don't confuse the narrator

Exploring the boundary between writer and narrator through first person poetry, prose and opinion

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