Never can I return to that unholy shape.
Hunched. Hands slipping beneath skin of lamb.
The corpse lies like wax in the ear.
Our hands are deep in the unhearing.
Fingers tread the crushed skull’s drowning place,
fingers sifting cartilage, organs snaking through.
We do not choose our own placement—tissue,
cells, molecules lain elbow to elbow on the conveyor belt.
The meat comes through our fingers.
These warehouse walls impersonate mountains.
They keep out the mountains and the voice calling down.
I would give my life for a vulture,
to see the arc of one tracing the arc of my eye,
to see that faintest movement at the edge.
To know there is something farther.
I know what it is to hear the last stream crackling ice.
A toe goes in. A knee.
A tongue soaked numb.
I am flexible as the neck of the vulture bending down.
I pick apart this body so that my son may know
his own body whole.
The skinned eyelids watch the blood drain
from floors as clean as obedience.
I will not feed my son my suicide.
One African American worker at a Koch [meat processing] facility that had been targeted by Ice, spoke to the Guardian on condition of anonymity. He alleged that while Koch had recently begun taking workers’ temperatures before shifts, they had also withheld details of any workers who contracted the virus. He claimed the company was now handing out surgical masks, but had forced workers to use them over two or three shifts. “They ain’t offering nobody no disability, no unemployment, no time off,” the worker said. “I just keep my hands washed up, my face covered up, my whole body covered, and I pray to myself and hope I don’t catch it. The truth is there’s a chance that everybody in [here] will catch it.” —“‘We’re modern slaves’: How meat plant workers became the new frontline in Covid-19 war,” The Guardian, May 2, 2020
A Meat-packer’s Supplication was first published in The New Verse News, edited by James Penha, Monday May 11, 2020.