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Published: Thu Apr 15 1993
Diego Isaias Hernández Méndez, Convertiendse en Characoteles / Sorcerers Changing into Their Animal Forms (detail), 2013, oil on canvas. Arte Maya Tz’utujil Collection.
Gelatin Factory

No need to look for the place,
just follow your nose,
the man at unemployment
said, not sure he was joking.
Down where the river turned
and the factory rose,
there were always jobs
on the night shift.
Only you and the foreman
would know English.
Not Hector and José
who punched in late
those summer nights
from bars still cursing
women, baseball, and the Colombians.
Maybe it was a nostalgia
for the heat that brought them.
Never less than 120 degrees
on the catwalks, more near
the ovens. And all summer
men of many colors were dying
in jungles and cities of Asia.
But only pigs died here.
At first, you didn’t
believe them, then
you saw the evidence.
Morning, freight cars
loaded like ships to the gunnels
with carcasses of the dead
young piglets pulled
onto the sidings. All day,
their small, twisted bodies
grayed in the sun, legs
pointed to the heavens
that failed them.
No farmer to claim
the honor of this crop,
raised to be boiled in acid,
rendered a sticky mass
rolled on screens and cooked
in sheets to glass, smashed
and ground to a fine powder
useful to man for many things
but best for those sweet
desserts, late on Sundays, children
circled and ate.

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Kevin Bowen is director of the William Joiner Center for the Study of War and its Social Consequences at the University of Massachusetts Boston. His most recent collections are Eight True Maps of the West (Dedalus Press, Dublin), Six Vietnamese Poets (Curbstone Press), and Early Zen Poems from Vietnam, with Nguyen Duy and Nguyen Ba Chung (Saigon Cultural Publishing House). (updated 10/2006)

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