Table of Contents



Madeleine Wattenberg

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Every word I say is a pig bred for thinner back fat.

I'm touring a slaughterhouse in Kentucky.

Its architecture instructs my mind toward an inevitable

filling of presently empty space. Our tour guide tells us

the stunning pen is perfectly measured to pressure-

comfort the pigs. Like a hug, he says, fingering

the stunning tongs. Slaughterhalls use sloped floors

for easing liquid runoff. The vehicle serves the tenor.

There are no right corners, which keeps things moving.

There is no guarantee. At the end of each day, you

still must hose the floor clean after what you've done.

I dedicate these poems to the future pigs. May they rifle

through my trash and find nourishment in its afterlife.

During the tour, we encounter no workers. Machinery

admires bodies of similarity. Consider the conveyor belt

conveying carefully weighed cuts and shapes and sounds:

one through to the refrigerated room, one to an electric

bath, several to the metal troughs that sort the waste.

Consider the fitted frame that tightly hugs me. Consider

what a comfort it is.




Dirt parking lot.

This recollection.

Up the ramp for intake.

The hall rests vacant as the hour.

A gate swings, the sun slaps a curl of red paint.

A hall.

A room for stun, for dress, for slice, for weight inspection.

The eye slips around the wall.

The gears begin rotating—hunger thinks its bodies into being, then breaks the link.

Connect dirty drains to sewage lines to minimize contamination.

The body empties like the milky way to morning, like snowfall melting through the metal grates.

Splashed fluids (colostrum) (milk) foul the meat.

Awake, ascending, geese crack arrows in blue sky.

Persuade me not to drink you dry.

A hook.

An accidental turn. Trucks back into the docks. Pen 2.

New trucks arrive this afternoon, a few an hour.

To limit contact with other stock, the locking mechanism should preclude touch.

The wall directs the eye beyond the wall.

Next step?

Tin panels seamed to steely fields.

A canvas river built to protocol.

The field stays undefined.

At night, snow is cold, but it's not white.

No moon tonight.

The bride escaped the ceremony.

How sick you are, forgotten in your isolation.

Flipped narration—esophagus and trachea remain intact as the animal is bled.

A calculation of halves.

Clean and wholesome, pure and potable, these mean the same thing—water fit to drink.

Wicks of steam. Tied cattle: 3.8 square meters.

Geese honk some instruction on where next to fly.

Offload ramps are lined with tamped cement.

Still the animals refuse the descent.

An iron bolt slithers from the lock.

The roadway's slick with slush and tire tracks checkerboard the snow.

Above the slaughterhall, it looks as though a stream of ghosts escape in chorus.

It must be winter now.

Place signs in prominent positions to label safe or unsafe sources. Pen 1.

Is it disease that tips the scale?

Each word invents a breath, a boat, the whole breath's a boat on which intruders sail the world, the stripped suede sea.

Call it efficiency or simply self-defense.

The interior's divided: purity and sickness.

Provide good lighting, water, tying chains.

Don't blame the flesh, such imperfect bowls for hunger.

Snow refracts the brown-veined trees and shadows pursue their solid bodies.

An unmarked blue-sky morning.

The isolation hold for when a body fails the ante-mortem quiz.

A competent authority defines required space per species (if kept in family groups).

Loose cattle: 2.9 square meters.

The hour is clear and quiet.


The outside matter enters without entering.

Underneath, a crust of chalk invites itself inside the eye.

Each word's a moon—a thing illuminated by reflection, a single-sided coin.

The floors are washed before the break for lunch.

At the end, only the true interior is consumed—the untouched sound and syllable. Pen 3.

Equip facilities with light for inclement conditions.

The winter dark will fall.

The darkness of the lake against the snow still clings to webbed feet.

The ice's stricture blurs the sight of laborer and animal, so mark the parking lots and keep roads clear.

And what infects the word's biology, the syntax's twisted intestine?

The sky appears like a blue veil flung over the field.

Wash and disinfect all "dirty" trucks.

We stayed to watch the sun drip down. Pen 4 through 6, etc.

Lay the floors to separate drains.

A cutlet sun, an apricot unmade and laid in slices on the plate.

Prisms catch what rusting light is offered by the old lamps that line the road.

Unmoored, the moon knocks the referent in the dark, tries to take shape.

Like a fatty pearl. Stay.

The runoff from the snow might leak into the sun.

A road for "clean."

A road for "dirty."

Sealed doorways, their hinges rusted out like foam spit from a red clay cut.

Methodically inspect the tanks for breaches, seal the safes from mice.

Sheep, adult pigs, and calves: 0.5 square meters.

Collection, chrome assembly.




Note: Language from Essay 3 was decomposed from a slaughterhouse design manual produced by MLC Consulting Services LTD (2007).










You can trace these poems upstream to 1916 when the ratification of the National Defense Act sought to secure the supply of nitrate for both agriculture and war. And here, downstream, they belong also to the abattoir and to algae.