Rebecca Gayle Howell

How to Kill a Hog

Do you remember how close

you were to her


when she was farrowing

and she needed you


her bawling drawing

you out of bed


a bad dream

how you washed her vulva, soft


warm water over your own

hands how you scrubbed


even your fingernails

under your fingernails


before you came to the pen and the sun-

flower oil you coated yourself in


so she would not chafe

even as she hemorrhaged


and how against all this

bloody shit and hay


you took each piglet

out of her night and into yours


into your palm and cleared

its mouth its nose of mucus


how you brought breath

to each set of tiny lungs


how you washed

how you opened her


That is how to touch her now


Once she is hung

and cut straight cut


from rectum to neck

while the other men


take their cigarettes

find quick coffee, food


Lag behind wait

until the barn is empty


until you are alone

Then step inside her


your arms inside her

death like it is a room


your private room

peculiar and clean


Gather her organs up

into your arms


like you once did your mother’s robes

when you were a boy who knew nothing


but the scent of sweat and silk

Hold her and inhale


Before reaching all the way around

to snip the last tendon

before you cut the stomach

intestines kidney liver


before you cut her heart



and she drops into you

and drops down


into the cold wash tub

of this day


close your eyes just once

just once


do not turn away


This poem first appeared in Barely South (April 2012) and is from Render / An Apocalypse (Cleveland State University Poetry Center, 2013).