Spring at the rendering plant, Mileage, Avenue Verdi
by Barbara Beck
[ poetry - july 06 ]
Spring at the rendering plant
Time to knock off for lunch.
Under warm April sun, the workers want to eat outdoors.
They choose seats on fleshy benches
of dead heifer set in a conversational group.
Make themselves comfortable, unpack cold cuts and beer,
slit open arm-long baguettes, spear pickles from a jar.
A heap of carcasses for meltdown towers above them.
From auction, feedlot, farm: the culled sheep,
dairy cows with ballooning bellies, blue-tongued calves
strangled at birth, soft hooves pearly in the light.
End use: tallow, fertilizer, bone meal.
The men grin and chew.
Their boots squelch in brown macerations,
body juices runneling towards grease-choked ditches.
The smell hangs thick over the yard.
Sun's warmth touching their faces,
they crack jokes about a foreman's girlfriend,
discuss wages with their mouths full,
put fingernails to teeth where bits of gristle have stuck.
One man knits using large needles,
another strops a knifeblade on a rectangular stone,
spitting to wet it.
Friday night, and for all you know
you're the only one left in the house.
It is so quiet you hear
volts pass single-file through the bulb,
the cat's fuzzy breathing.
But the air shakes, beyond silence
is the low throb of weekend traffic
draining from the city,
long arterial lines.
Nothing much is happening in your book.
Bloodless characters come and go.
As your eyeballs roll over the word-miles
of some would-be Dostoevsky
your thoughts lift off and travel
to the place you could be right now
if only you hadn't turned down the offer,
where cherries glow vermillion
and trees are freeways for rambunctious sap.
Being several places at once
gets you nowhere.
When you tire of staring
at the big pileup
of incomprehensible syllables,
you go light the burner,
watch the blue daisy open
and flare out under the kettle.
In an empty apartment somewhere
a dog howls.
A soprano voice shivers into night air.
Glassy piano music carries
from somewhere high up, a balcony
beaming light and laughter.
I lie on the fold-out bed
parallel to the window,
the street just on the other side.
Couples walking by talk low, stop,
click a lighter, rasp heels against brickwork.
So close, my presence is
the dormant phase of their motion,
a silent part of speech.
Thin lavender light enters and covers me.
The singing again. An aria climbs,
pellucid and unprotected,
then holds and holds its horizontality.
The sound outlines waiting shapes
included in a true thing all helped to make,
lovers passing, sleepers listening
in identical dissimilar rooms.