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American Life in Poetry: ‘Butchering’

UPDATED: Fri., June 26, 2020

By Ted Kooser U.S. poet laureate, 2004-06

Now and then, I get a complaint from one of our readers saying that what we publish isn’t poetry because it doesn’t rhyme.

Actually, we’ve published quite a lot of poetry with rhymes – end-rhymes, half-rhymes, internal rhymes, and now and then a sonnet, if that sonnet is a fine poem, too.

And here’s one of those by Rhina P. Espaillat, a New Englander, from her book “And After All,” published by Able Muse Press.

Butchering

My mother’s mother, toughened by the farm,

hardened by infants’ burials, used a knife

and swung an axe as if her woman’s arm

wielded a man’s hard will. Inured to life

and death alike, “What ails you now?” she’d say

ungently to the sick. She fed them, too,

roughly but well, and took the blood away–

and washed the dead, if there was that to do.

She told us children how the cows could sense

when their own calves were marked for butchering,

and how they lowed, their wordless eloquence

impossible to still with anything–

sweet clover, or her unremitting care.

She told it simply, but she faltered there.

Poem copyright 2019 by Rhina P. Espaillat, “Butchering,” from “And After All,” (Able Muse Press, 2019). Poem reprinted by permission of the author and the publisher. American Life in Poetry is made possible by the Poetry Foundation and the Department of English at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. We do not accept unsolicited submissions.

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