The Butchery

26 December 2010

Our new house is a converted 1908 Co-Operative butcher’s shop, and still has  the ‘Butchery’ sign above the front window in green and gold.  Next door, which is now  flats, is ‘Grocery and Provisions.’  We slept here for the first time on Wednesday night, and have thus far been unhaunted by the souls of a hundred cows, nor heard midnight bleatings from long dead sheep.

All of the boxes have been unpacked except the books which edge the office like a Manhattan sky-line.  Our trusty builder and hero of all things complicatedly practical is making bookshelves the first week in January, and then once again indexed order will reign, praise be.

A couple of weeks ago I remembered the Butcher’s shop which I used to visit as a child, and thought this would be a good idea for a poem.  The collection I am writing is loosely based on my childhood, and in my childhood Butchery, the floor was covered in sawdust.  I wanted to include sawdust in the poem, but it didn’t want any.  Here is the poem:

The Butchery

By the time I was ten
I went to The Butchery alone
with a five pound note wrapped up
in a shopping list
inside my mother’s basket.

I always saw the pheasants first,
tied up at the ankle,
the empty screens of their eyes
clocking me as I dragged myself past,
my shoes turned to glue.

When I passed my list to Mr Lingly,
he would move his hands over
the inside-out animals on the counter
picking out eviscerated bits
to match my mother’s writing.

On the walk home
I thought of the thinly sliced tongue
sealed up in wax paper,
of the empty pelt I glimpsed
through a door at the back of the shop.

I still had the list in my hand,
with his blood fingerprints all over it.
The one thing not crossed off –
a line of illegible whorls
with a scratched question mark at the end.