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drove a jam-factory truck
powered by the pickers
on the Savilbeg plantation.
Sweet-and-sour raspberry bins
circled by wasps in summer
put the juice in
A Chivers man. A pay-packet
collector in a town of dole-takers,
untouched by sad sagas
of cotton firms that cut and ran
when the free rates ended.
But, just in case, he had a sideline.
Pigs. Fattened by buckets
of spud peelings and meal
simmered to a lumpy pulp
in a Burco boiler; rooting
soil in a small back garden,
sending a stink over the walls,
they sucked and grunted their way
to the hammer. Three strong men
to hold the rope, heavy death-head
swung high, flat face downward,
rape-screech, thump and crunch
as the skull implodes. Roll the shaft,
swing down the spike, sharp snap
as the bone breaks, mincemeat
eruption of brain, and slobbering mouth.
was an expert.
His cobbler's knife with concaved edge
slit the jugular, and bright blood shot,
heart-muscle pumping uselessly,
voiding hot life on the concrete floor.
With boiling water from a big black pot
he'd scald the pink skin, cut-throat
razor scything off the bristles,
barbering the carcass clean and shiny.
When the men had heaved the pig
like a stiffened lynch-mob victim
up to a rusted wall-ring, with one rip
he'd slice it ribs to arse, spilling
slippery guts to a wooden tub,
and then blow up the bladder for his kids
to kick around among the scattering hens.
Thick blood drying on his fingers,
he'd pass around a Woodbine packet,
slip shillings to the sweating men,
hose down the yard as they enjoyed a smoke.
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Notes on the poem:
- 'jelly' in USA
(line1/title) - We had great neighbours in Cowan Street, Newry, and 'Big' Stephen Hughes was one of them. During the Second World War, in Italy, he saved the life of a major and was decorated for his bravery. He used to rear pigs, and when the time came to slaughter one of them, I was dispatched next door by my granny and expected to return with the liver! Although I was very young at the time, I've never forgotten the sights, sounds and smells of those events.
- A fruit-farm at Savilbeg (where my Aunt Ena lived), near Newry on the road to Rathfriland. As kids, we used to work there in the summer vacation, picking raspberries and strawberries, which were trucked off to be made into jam. As memory serves, lots of wasp protein must have ended up in the jam!
(line 8) - Newry's local jam-factory
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