“Sheep Kill” by Jeff Streeby

Jeff Streeby

         for Dave

David, for years lost in drug-fogs, opens the throats of stunned lambs.
After half his life, grown patriarchal, he puts off all Armour’s gear—
safety helmet, goggles, apron, gauntlet, rubber boots, all their iron mesh and leather.
Shirtless, his Old Dominion baseball cap backwards,
he stands in cut-off Levis and sandals, prelate of the prostrate flocks,
singing each gashed fleecy neck some private sacrament or psalm.
Snugly grottoed in his windowless room, he moils away
smoothly stoned, ankle-deep in blood at the foot of the trundling conveyor,
his face pacific but spotted and striped with the dark wine of slaughter,
his torso, too, streaked incarnadine, splashed with arterial spray.
Year after year, he regards the slow ascent of his bleeding sheep
as they are carried off on wide black belting that rises through his ceiling.
Carotids bubble, jugulars weep, blood runs down the dull rubber in sticky ribbons
that glow honey-gold under long florescent lamps flickering in the basement’s dinge.
Mild berserker, smiling or whistling, he hones his blade against its sharpening steel,
makes it scrape and ring there until it is slender as a Hittite queen and irresistible.

One morning, as ordained, Dave wakes into the blizzard of an empty TV.
Too lucid, he finds he is unable to remember what day of the week it is or
what has happened to that ’58 Chevy Belair he drove in high school, or
whether his married sister is dead or alive.
Unable to explain to his stained self its solitude or
to name with certainty that gray face that looks out of the bathroom mirror or
to confront his other gigantic burden-all those years of pointless doing—
he panics, leaving little behind.

That night, under the doormat of all places, his sister found the knife,
its well-worn haft polished black with blood and suint,
its long edge dressed and keen.
She was furious when she found him in the basement,
a step-ladder in easy reach,
his toes just brushing the floor.

from Rattle #30, Winter 2008
Tribute to Cowboy & Western Poetry

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