“Jar of Pennies” by Sean Karns

Sean Karns


The year my mother worked
the slaughterhouse,

she came home smelling of blood:
a jar of pennies smell.

I squeezed her pant leg
and felt the dried blood

itching like wool.
She pushed me

away, not wanting any more
smells on her.

She told me about
the cows collapsing

in the slaughter room,
the pigs tugging and tugging

their bodies from her grip,
and how the blood washed

from her hands.
We only ate chicken

for that year.
Her ex-boyfriend knocked

on the door. The last time
he was in the house,

he pulled and pulled
at her arms, then pinned her

on the couch.
I sat at the dinner table,

fumbling with dinnerware.
She washed the blood

off her lips. We only needed steak
for her black eyes.

For a long year, my hands
smelled of pennies,

and my face was red with rashes
from wool. We ate chicken

and ignored the knocking
at the door. Locked it,

bolted it, made sure
we didn’t make noise.

from Rattle #36, Winter 2011


Sean Karns: “I was thinking about domestic violence. During a period in my childhood, my mother dated an abusive boyfriend and worked at a slaughterhouse in Springfield, Ohio. I saw a juxtaposition between human-human and human-livestock interaction: how we, as humans, at times treat each other like livestock.”

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