Condition of Flesh
Abattoirs are silent zoos at night:
neon-lit carcasses restitch themselves to life,
sewn skin soothed by shadows.
Sows mistake cow heads for theirs,
goats strut on pig hooves, roosters on trotters.
All limp on the linoleum in quick games
of chess against their collective future –
limbs with expiration date stamps negotiate
a price, hitchhike their way to the remotest
corners of meat counters at dawn.
I’m a butcher lost in the forest,
reading the stained map of my apron.
Moonlight reflecting off my cleaver reveals
deer drinking from a pond –
their teeth are pomegranate seeds
rooting fast in fractured bones.
I hear the mating call of foxes,
crickets winding the mechanism of dawn.
‘Escape as a remnant of light,’ a pine says.
I climb up, set it on fire.
Bloodlines of malaise traced with his tongue
through patchworks of skin, a porous wound –
in the train station a stray dog attempts to fix
what another’s teeth undid. That will do.
In the shipyard a three-legged cat gives birth
under a vessel named ETERNITY –
flesh unfurling to the sound of machines.
Salvaging pieces of herself, she eats the afterbirth.
(I’m a pale sailor waiting in the hold)
What little remains of breast milk
lies hidden in bones.
A skeletal tree stretches the body –
knuckled twigs pierce skin, then sky:
an elusive harvest. Calcified roots
show paths through cement and stone.
Is this motherhood’s gift –
a seed sifted through mud, a spade?
IOANNIS KALKOUNOS is a poet from Greece, living in Edinburgh. He won a Scottish Book Trust New Writers Award in 2020, and his poetry has appeared in Ambit, Gutter, Poetry London, The London Magazine, Best Scottish Poems 2020, and elsewhere.