I never asked about the skinned caterpillar scar
on Hertzberg’s arm when he rolled up his sleeve
to slit the pig’s throat – which he did quickly with
one slice of the knife.
I stirred blood, not to clot or clog.
As it went black, here and there
little stars of pearl barley appeared.
It was calm in the shed behind the shop
where I worked, just off O’Connell Street.
I watched life trickle into enamel basins
from the stiffening carcasses.
My dad was fighting in Germany
for The British Army. Mam
hid my boots, got me this job
that no one else would do
in the pork butcher’s shop
stirring up for black puddings.
I knew there was something else,
like the cold catching my breath,
like Hertzberg: what kind of a name was that?
beside me, he sharpened knives into bayonets.
I wondered if death always smelt so bad.
In the rubber boots, my feet couldn’t breathe.
I skidded on the muddy floor, questions
sliding round my head. At home,
no matter how hard I scrubbed,
under each fingernail was etched a line of red.