About the poet
Catherine Byron is an Irish poet who often collaborates with visual and sound artists. Her first...
For the first killing we left you there alone
my aunt and I. Took the children to a rural fair
that celebrated farming's age of steam.
Thrashing machines, steam tractors. That sort of thing.
The billy kid you stunned, or tried to stun
with the six-pound mallet, was very hard to kill.
I didn't really know what I was doing
but once I'd started, knew I couldn't stop.
I think he was conscious when I cut his throat.
It was 'culling' with the laying hens.
After the first try, when you wrung a neck
so well the head unscrewed, you thought you'd use
the six-pound mallet for the hens as well.
I held their heads down on the chopping block
by the back shed door. You tried to aim
the hammer smartly. Sometimes you half-missed.
But for the cock who terrorised the children
we read up first on how to kill a goose:
broom handle over the neck, one's feet astride,
and then a neat jerk upwards with its body.
It took the two of us, and didn't work
the first time. Fourth, I think. Mallet again.
My love, how did we get this far stepped in?
You never had a hammer in your hand
until you married me. Manual tools
the mark of manual work, your father said,
and hid all his in a roll of blackened oilcloth
down with the coal. You his white-collar boy.
Now you are out all hours, stretching barbed wire
between fencing posts, hammering stobs in
with the twelve-pound fencing mallet. The six-pounder
you keep for work that's close to home, jobs
that I can witness, be the helpmeet to.
from The Fat-Hen Field Hospital: Poems 1885-1992 (Loxwood Stoneleigh,1993), © Catherine Byron 1993, used by permission of the author
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