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Leave Nothing


1

Sour milk, lard scum, skillet scrapings,
sweet potato peels, eggshells, tobacco leaf,
pipe ash, coffee, cornmeal, burnt crusts,
moldy biscuits, water from a dishpan,
spilt pot likker, ash, dust, and kitchen sweepings—

in the evenings Webster lifts the slop bucket
from the kitchen floor, sloshing its weight
down the back step, past the chicken coop
and smokehouse to the wide yard
with its lean-to and wooden trough,

calling Swee Swee Swee-ah!
Heah pa-g Heah-Heah!

Hearing his voice, the mud rises
on dainty hooves.

                             Be careful,
he warns the child beside him,
a girl-child slanted on tip-toe, watching
the mud-plastered humps.

Be careful, he says.
The child listens and understands the danger,
listens to the snorts, grunts, knocking snouts,
smacks and squeals of piggish maws
buried in a trough of leavings and gone bads:
they eat it all and leave nothing.

Sows and shoats raise snouts, clotted
with slops, to sniff and watch the bucket
(empty now), the man (in no hurry),
and the girl (tagging-along) before lowering
their rumps into mud and sleep.
 

2

To root (verb): to dig,
ferret, burrow, to search out.
The mind roots, grubs. The past forages.

Chaney, Schwerner, Goodman
buried in an earthen dam, a dark rain,
dark rain, Lord, a dark rain in Neshoba County.

Thompson said the young men screamed
so loudly that their voices reminded him
of "pigs squealing."

 

3

         She said
They hung the hog by its heels
from a scaffolding and slit the belly
with a butch a knife: blood everywhere.

         She said
They had two large cast iron pots filled with water
and a fire going under both pots. Said
they scalded the pig and scraped off its hair.

         She said
The pig blood spilled everywhere:

         The kudzu vines drank deep and ran wild,
         swallowing everything in their green maw.

         The cotton drank deep, cotton bolls dry
         and sharp as tusks.

         The earth drank deep, blood-sopped, blood-quenched.
         There was red dirt, blood dirt, everywhere, everywhere.

         She said
She never would forget.
 

4

Wallow (verb): immerse or revel.
The mind wallows. Sunlight, sun-slop
sun-likker spilling over a magnolia blossom.

from W Gmc. *walwojan, ... "to roll"
(see vulva). Figurative sense of "to plunge
and remain in some state or condition."

In the front yard, a child digs a hole, fills it
with tap water, and steps into it: oozy
soap-slick of squish, toe puddin', toe soup.
A mud bath for her feet and her ankles.
A mud child, the mud's child, a child in mud, wallowing.
 

5

She watched Webster (long ago) slop sows
and shoats. Listened to Anna's stories
about hogs and the slaughter of hogs.
Now she sits, looking into the night's trough.

The past is leavings and make do and salvage,
the moldy scraps and remnant, a swill—
what she has, what she's offered.

Be careful, Webster said.
Did he mean appetite? Did he mean desire?
Be careful.

She tips her chin to take both in,
swallowing goneby and mightbe.

How hopeful pigs are,
how satisfied, as if there were always
some sweetness, as if they would always rise,
lift themselves from the mud.

In the dark, she hears Webster's step,
the pigs' grunts and snorts, the way they eat
whatever they are offered, always seeking more,
squealing, squealing, squealing all the way home.


Janice N. Harrington

New Letters

Volume 78, No. 1


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