A hamlet like this one, barely
half a mile of a two-lane
state road rolling through the farmlands,
doesn’t always have a butcher.
This one does. There is a butcher
but there aren’t any doctors.
There is a dentist but no gas
station. The nearest grocery
store with aisles is half an hour,
a little too far in summer.
The butcher works from his sisters’
shop of canned goods, milk, the local
paper. He’s not old, but he is
too old to live with his sisters
for no reason. They’re unmarried,
though, childless; he’s the baby.
Maybe they need him for something,
the four of them in cardigans
identical to boys looking
to buy gum without pats or praise.
The butcher is a giving man.
In fall, when Jamaican migrants
work the orchards, he slaughters goats
they roast on spits just down the hill
from church, though it makes him nervous.
In winter, when the Anglicans
in Milton Turnpike have no meat
to sell in their shop, he sells them
chops at cost, butcher to butcher,
saying nothing to his sisters.
And in spring, because the Jewess
from Boston has mentioned her love
of morels, he hunches over
the underbrush of half-formed trails.
Often he is in his apron, smudged
with blood, having stolen away
at lunch with a wicker basket.
He searches for the risky things,
which often crumble in his hands,
the muscles a butcher can’t help
but have impeding his secret,
lonely love affair with longing.
Searching, he lets himself think
of the Jewess’s perfect flank.
Her tenderloin. Her bottom round.
He blushes helplessly at his
own joke, then pushes through the shame
of being grown up and merely
well-liked, and returns to her curves.
He’s sure she’d never think of him
as crass or crude, but as a man
who adores her and cannot help
who he is or how he will fail
her, crouched on paths in woods between
the dark and holy spears of light.
She’s almost entirely his
creation. Yet she could well be
as real as this, smelling of good
dirt like the mushrooms, those shy blooms
of the private earth he hunts for.
Gabriel Fried is the author of Making the New Lamb Take, named a Best Book of 2007 by Foreword Magazine and the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. He is the poetry editor at Persea Books and a Visiting Assistant Professor of english at the University of Missouri.