In memory of Albert E. Flemming
The rusted feet of Christ in roadside shrines
Where the eager nail has bled into the stone
Transform the tough-hewn birch that disciplines.
His agony is fossilized in red
Lichens of corrosion on pale linden wood.
The oldtime craftsmen carved Him like a goose
With slathered ribs that spew out lymph and pus;
Three lurid ulcers colonize His thigh;
Pustules of malachite surround each eye.
A loving laceration smears His mouth.
Affection and the brute regard for truth
Suture His temples with the maggot’s twist.
The black iron spikes surge from His wrists.
And yet, for me, this victim, tethered like
A swan, is lewd and holy:
Peacock of decay . . .
The spotted hogs trot past to the abattoir.
Their flanks are mired with fear-dung, and they squeal.
Their pink noses snuffle the poignant air.
Men club the hogs with black padded hammers,
Then swing them up on hooks and stab their throats.
Their shrieks are inconsolable and mad.
Their eerie voices give the shrine its cry.
Pilgrim, you shudder, stung by hurt and fear.
The thighs of Christ are burnished and severe.
A murderous perfection lights His eye.
A downy princess texture to the skin
—Only the exquisite can savour pain—
The royal exclamations of a flame
That feeds most fiercely on the tutored nerve.
Aristocratic in His gilded Calvary
—Did the numb peasants worship in His form
The hated bodies of their feudal lords,
Imagining beneath the ermine cloaks
Flesh that could whimper to the flail’s white strokes?
The pretty little hogs with spotted sides,
Their fern-like ears scrolled over clever eyes,
That prick a delicate path on trotting hooves
Across the trash and mud of a weathered sty,
Enthralled me as I knelt beside the shrine.
(I share the German fondness for their swine.)
In autumn, when they come to butcher them, I
Memorize their long, despairing squeals
That fill the Bauernhof. I smell the blood,
The stink of singeing bristle and the smoke,
But feel the most for those that cannot cry,
Who wedge their frightened bodies to the fence
And shake with dumb-struck terror, paralysed
And staring, or expel quick spurts of nervous dung
That stains their patterned haunches and stiff tails.
And afterwards, just past the killing ground,
I watched a hunting spider trap the flies
Invited by the reek of thickened blood;
Her dust embedded web only an instrument,
All wonder butchered, pure function manifest,
With jags of dark heart’s blood snagged on the strands.
Song for an Ironing Board
I ride an ironing board to reach the stars.
I prick it with my spurs of spatulas.
It neighs and ripples the old scorch-scars
Of its back and flanks. It whinnies
And I rear back, snorting steam.
I bridle my ironing board with wrinkled bras.
I rein it in with underwear.
How it swamps and paws its trestle!
The dawn I’ve ridden forth with the gleam
Of a fresh-pressed collar and jousted with legions
Of wrinkles and mutinous pleats.
The unstarched world’s Cimmerian regions
Yield to my singeing hoof-beats.
I ride an ironing board to reach the heights
Beyond all rumpledoms of wash
Where the shirtwaist alone shines triumphant.
I ride an ironing board as the iron’s lights
Like clangorous horse-shoes knicker and clip.
I ride an ironing board that gallops to my lash.
It rears like Hannibal’s last elephant,
Alp-traumatized, and trumpets. Its fireproof lip
O my war-stallion, snort-eloquent!
Eric Ormsby’s award-winning poetry has appeared in most of the major journals in Canada, England and the United States. His work has been anthologized in The Norton Anthology of Poetry as well as in The Norton Introduction to Literature.