Mary Mackey





The Culling: A Poem In Seven Parts

1. Whenever I Feel Like Complaining

I remember my Great Aunt Ebbie
who 3 days before she turned 76
hand-shucked 40 acres of corn
after it was beaten down by a
hail storm

standing on one leg
because the other
had been eaten off
by a hog

which also had also eaten 
off one of her arms
meaning she did it 
one-legged and
one-handed
in the pouring rain

2. Et

dialectal past tense and past participle of eat
Middle English eten, from Old English etan
akin to Old High German ezzan to eat, 
Latin edere, Greek edmenai

your Great Aunt Ebbie has suffered a farm accident
my mother says

what she means my father says
is that a hog et your Aunt Ebbie. 

et all of her? I ask

no, just her left leg 
and part of her right arm

think she’ll live?

I expect so
those Walker girls
are tough

John!   my mother screams
how can you stand there
and talk about this to Mary
as if it’s normal

3. While Listening to Pinchas Zukerman Play Mozart

couldn’t you at least
have said “eaten”
my mother whispers 

you’re a doctor
a well-educated man

no one 
ever says someone
was “eaten” by hogs
my father whispers
they are “et”
it’s the only possible word

I cannot     whispers my mother
turning pale
cannot stand for . . . 
cannot bear to . . .

my mother never finished that sentence
so we never knew if it was
the grammar
or the hogs
that bothered her
most

4. I Prove I Am My Mother’s Daughter

my great aunt has suffered
a farm accident
I told my Harvard
roommates

she had a . . .

fall

5. Why My Mother Gave Up Pork Forever

for Christmas
they sent us

the ham

6. The Day the Hogs Ate Aunt Ebbie

Only one ornery old sow really
but the story gets better in the telling:

how at the age of 73 Aunt E went out
to the pigpen to slop the hogs
and stepped on a shoat that squealed
like it was being baconed alive

how a two-hundred pound cross-eyed sow
milk-titted and crazed with mother lust 
charged her   knocked her down
planted its muddy hooves on her chest
crunched her legbones like breadsticks
ate off her arm
and would have had her head and heart too
if Aunt Kitty   thin as a willow
and 80 if she was a day
hadn’t come barreling out of the kitchen
with a broom and beat the beast off Ebbie
like she was pounding a pig carpet
Some say in that terrible hour
Kitty called on Jesus to give her strength
others insist she swore like a mule skinner

“hang on, honey!’ Aunt Kitty yelled
as she jammed the broomstick
down the sow’s threat
“you still got one good leg      and this old bitch
is headed for ham”

7. Jesus on a Scarf 

my people weren’t religious
they went to church on Sunday 
mostly for the company 
to learn the going price for shoats
and grab a funeral parlor fan or two 
for when the weather turned hot come August.

the only praying I ever heard about was when 
the hog ate off Aunt Ebbie’s leg 
and she sent away to a radio preacher 
for a magic scarf 
with the face of Jesus on it 
that was supposed to make it grow back.

she tried the Jesus scarf for a while with no results
sent her artificial leg out 
to have the spring in the knee readjusted
and gave up on God.