Swallowing: Snouts and Bristles and the Hearts of Men

I was thinking of two thousand pigs, the earth-
shaking weight and terror of their stampede,
how at full run and near the steep cliffs
just this side of the Sea of Galilee, they might go on
into the water at full charge, barely realizing.

And after all that weight, wouldn’t they love
the sea’s effortless lift of hoof and heft?  Pigs
can swim, and so maybe the first plunge,
though driven by terror, carried comfort, carried peace.
No more heat, the thick mud sloughing away,
the salt buoying them up and filling the mouth
with its sweetness and memory of blood.

But too many rushed in, and the sea keeps waves
and undercurrents.  Their charge left no room
for turning back.  Even if sea pigs feed on the mud
of the ocean floor, these swine were destined to swallow
infinitely and finally, so their whole bodies filled
with the acute pain of failed metamorphosis.
Gills or their like, would come in eons, never
in the last grasping moment when with water
their weight came back to own them.

Late at night, overtired, my head in solid ache,
I find the night’s consistent pills.  I imagine her desire
to reach for so many of these she’d slip
into their false care, so many she’d dissipate.
I am aware, always solidly, piggishly inside this self.
No god can shift evil into the herd again.
I cannot run like the swine into the sea
rather than live with the demon and the spirit in me.

Laura Lee Washburn is the Director of Creative Writing at Pittsburg State University in Kansas, an editorial board member of the Woodley Memorial Press, and the author of  This Good Warm Place: 10th Anniversary  Expanded Edition (March Street) and Watching the Contortionists (Palanquin Chapbook Prize).  Her poetry has appeared in such journals as Carolina Quarterly, Quarterly West, The Sun, The Journal, and Clackamas Review.  Born in Virginia Beach, Virginia, she has also lived and worked in Arizona and in Missouri.  She is married to the writer Roland Sodowsky.

next                    table of contents