Today’s featured poem Meat is Murder is, as the title suggests, not for the squeamish (‘bled down the step’, ‘hanging those soft stretched bodies’) but there is such beauty in the imagery (‘dew-clawed and raspberry eyed’, ‘ruby jewels and red jellies’, ‘lifted on a diesel breeze’). The butcher of the poem is under attack and turns to drastic action in order to keep the family business going (‘the son of a butcher, who was son of a butcher’s son) to the point where this time it is possibly not the animals whose blood has been spilled.
The poem is based on a true story from Roy’s home town in the 1980s, when a butcher’s shop had paint thrown over it, I am sure is inspired by The Smiths’ song. Now, vegetarianism has become a more popular choice of many people and there appears less antipathy towards your local butcher, although this is probably to do with a decline in independent traders. The world is a more corporate place where pressures on profits mean economies of scale translate into ‘mixed meat’ solutions as the revelation of horse meat in the EU food chain showed. It is this development I think that makes the poem very poignant; the decline in family and independent businesses and the rise in large corporations whose income matches that of small countries and whose political influence is much greater. Ironically, it has always been the capitalists that have understood Karl Marx better than the Marxists (read John Lanchester on Marx at 193).
This is Roy in his own words, “I wrote songs and poems as a teenager but stopped for about twenty years. At different times I worked as a delivery driver, gardener and coronary care nurse. In 2009 a poem of mine was printed in the Guardian on-line. I started to send poems to magazines and to competitions. A pamphlet ‘Gopagilla‘ was published in 2012 and a full collection ‘The Sun Bathers’ (2013) is available from Shoestring Press or from my blog. roymarshall.wordpress.com “
Meat is Murder
When, overnight, his trade was re-named
in letters daubed five-feet high, that bled
down the step and over the pavement,
he stopped hanging those soft stretched bodies,
dew-clawed and raspberry-eyed, their felt ears
lifted on diesel breeze whenever a lorry went by.
The son of a butcher, who was the son
of a butcher’s son, he prided himself on brain
and brawn, ruby jewels and red jellies,
a plump pink purse, frisked from a carcass,
tenderly placed beside rib rack and loin.
That stunned morning he gave me a fiver
to peel plastic blood from the glass with a knife,
while he scrubbed shadows from the feet of passers-by,
then sent me for tins of paint for the sill, black gloss
to better reflect the times. Years later, I saw him
in the paper, and though I’d known he’d owned a gun,
I’d forgotten how night after night, his moon-face
shone blue in the fly-catcher’s light, that sheened
the scrubbed slab and marble counter, as he listened
for voices over the refrigerator’s hum.
*Photo by Nick Rawle