Saturday, 28 February 2015

Licence To Kill?

Okay, this blog isn't going to be to everyone's taste - but please stick with it... a bit like Picasso's 'Guernica', art isn't always beautiful.

It's been a very hectic week in the jewel of the north (Blackpool, naturally) and I haven't had the time to write a new poem on theme - Authority - so I'm reprising the piece I performed at my first Dead Good Poets' open mic night almost exactly a year ago, on the premise that most of you won't have heard it in the first place and those who were there have possibly forgotten you ever did.

It begs the question: On whose authority do we eat our fellow creatures?

Let me set the scenes; yes, there are two.

Scene One is set in Coventry. As a student at Warwick University in the early '70s I lived for two years in a low-rent dive with a group of friends; and  by low-rent I mean £15 per week between 8 of us! That's hardly believable nowadays. Not that it was really a dive; it was actually a very comfortable end-of-terrace red brick house - but location is everything, even in Coventry. Our house backed onto the railway shunting yards and was right next to the local abattoir. Wagon loads of cows, sheep and pigs used to trundle up at frequent intervals just beyond our back fence. We quite often heard the animals' pitiful bleatings and lowings as they awaited their fate. Meat is murder. Most of us, myself included, became vegetarians within weeks of moving in. We even assisted a cow to escape one day. Somehow it evaded the slaughter-men and got out into the street. We artfully impeded said slaughter-men in their attempts to recapture the terrified beast and it made it as far as the local park, to much cheering from the locals. Sadly it enjoyed only a short stay of execution and was apprehended some hours later under cover of darkness once the park was closed.

Scene Two is set in London a few years later. I lived in the north-west of the city and taught at a large comprehensive school for a time. In Willesden High Street there was an old-fashioned butcher's shop rejoicing in the name of Frank Slaughter & Son - you couldn't make that up, could you? This was a prestigious butchering business with a plaque in the window proclaiming the fact that it supplied sausages to the Queen by Appointment, which I suppose makes Her Majesty not only fidei defensor (defender of the faith) but also farcimen amatoris (lover of the sausage). The butcher clearly enjoyed his job. He was a jovial fellow and I quite often used to hear Frank's laughter as I passed quickly by the establishment on Saturday mornings. I never ventured in, even though by now I was a lapsed vegetarian. All that meat hanging up was a bit too graphic, too brightly bloody and gruesome; and the coppery smell of blood wafting out of the open door was no great inducement. However, observing that shop and its clientele did get me thinking about meat-eating in an oblique way, as if it were a kind of addiction and the hardened meat-eater just a form of junkie. 'Fix' was the result, an extreme satire on the impulse to kill and consume our fellow creatures.

I mentioned that I'm a lapsed vegetarian. I do eat meat again because I enjoy the taste, but I salve my conscience (in as far as that's possible) by only buying free-range/ethically sourced produce.

Those of you of a delicate or nervous disposition need read no further... 

I dragged my craving, lusting body to my local butcher’s shop
and told the man behind the counter (as politely as I could):
“Butcher me a feast, bloody and dripping;
I feel the urge to slobber as I tear it with my teeth;
slaughter me a beast.”

“Surely,” he replied. “Excuse me while I step outside
and hack a piglet down the back;
or maybe you’d prefer a lamb torn limb from limb?”
“Oh, I’m not choosy, you decide,” I answered, foaming at the mouth,
“but let the flesh be fresh and not too fatty, please.” 

He went out back with knife and saw
and left me standing on the red-stained floor
surrounded by a treasure-trove
of lovely glistening livers, carcassed cows,
chickens and ducks with twisted necks and ruffled plumages of death.
I heard the satisfying squeal of sacrificial veal from the yard,
and, breathing deep and hard, pulled down into my lungs
the pungent, cloying, sickly smell of lifeblood of the newly-felled. 

The man returned with bloody hands and laid my juicy fix upon the scales.
His glazed eyes rose to meet my own as he weighed out the tasty deal.
Impatiently, I said to him:
“Don’t bother with the wrapping up, I’ll eat it walking home.”
Then, flinging several coins down,
I snatched the joint,
crammed full my mouth
and in sublime oblivion
pursued my carnal pleasure to the bone.

Thanks for reading. Have a good week, S :-)


Christo Heyworth said...

Absolutely tremendous, Steve, and I'm experiencing the poem for the first time as I must have been AWAY the first time you read it at Dead Goods in No.5 Cafe of fond memory.
I'm a lapsed veggie too, but my conversion and re-conversion to carnivore were even more rapid than yours - a vegetarian girlfriend insisted , but my body cravings for meat won out soon after.
The aptness of surnames to trade are always amusing and this one really takes some beating - with a kitchen steak hammer presumably.