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Monday, September 26, 2011

Number 270: Louise Erdrich "That Pull From The Left"

That Pull from the Left

Butch once remarked to me how sinister it was
alone, after hours, in the dark of the shop
to find me there hunched over two weeks’ accounts
probably smoked like a bacon from all those Pall-Malls.

Odd comfort when the light goes, the case lights left on
and the rings of baloney, the herring, the parsley,
arranged in the strict, familiar ways.

Whatever intactness holds animals up
has been carefully taken, what’s left are the parts.
Just look in the cases, all counted and stacked.

Step-and-a-Half Waleski used to come to the shop
and ask for the cheap cut, she would thump, sniff, and finger.
This one too old. This one here for my supper.
Two days and you do notice change in the texture.

I have seen them the day before slaughter.
Knowing the outcome from the moment they enter
the chute, the eye rolls, blood is smeared on the lintel.
Mallet or bullet they lunge toward their darkness.

But something queer happens when the heart is delivered.
When a child is born, sometimes the left hand is stronger.
You can train it to fail, still the knowledge is there.
That is the knowledge in the hand of a butcher

that adds to its weight. Otto Kröger could fell
a dray horse with one well-placed punch to the jaw,
and yet it is well known how thorough he was.

He never sat down without washing his hands,
and he was a maker, his sausage was echt
so that even Waleski had little complaint.
Butch once remarked there was no one so deft
as my Otto. So true, there is great tact involved
in parting the flesh from the bones that it loves.

How we cling to the bones. Each joint is a web
of small tendons and fibers. He knew what I meant
when I told him I felt something pull from the left,
and how often it clouded the day before slaughter.

Something queer happens when the heart is delivered.

-- Louise Erdrich

Hap Notes: Well, there's certainly a lot going on in this monologue poem. First off, did you know that the word sinister is from the Latin, sinistra, which means lefthand? Did you know that deft is a Middle English word daft which also means gentle or humble and that deft is often a synonym for dextrous (which derived from the Latin, dexter, "on the right side" or skillful.") The heart, as we all know, I think, is on the left side.

The narrator often sits in a closed meat shop (with the case lights left on, bringing the merchandise into sharp focus) doing the account books. FYI The debit side of an account ledger is usually the left side, the right side is usually the credit side.

What does the narrator mean in the phrase "the intactness" that holds the animals up, do you think? And what about the "delivery" of the heart? "Echt" is a word of German derivation that sort of means "right, true, authentic, genuine, real.

One more thing and I'll let you sort this out for yourself. Remember in the Bible in Exodus, how one of the 10 plagues of the Egyptians was the killing of the first born son? And how the Hebrews were told to put blood on the lintels (the door posts/frames) of their homes so that the Angel of Death would pass over their households (hence the name Passover?) Just another thing to think on.

It's interesting to note that the meat is stacked in "strict familiar ways" like an account book, maybe? What is that pull from the left? Why would it affect one at a meat market, do you think?
Think also on the other meanings of the word left.

Each poem I read by Erdrich convinces me that even though she is more well known as a novelist she is really a poet. She packs an entire novel into one poem. That's the power of poetry, right there. Her poems are easy to read and yet densely packed with information. Extraordinary work.

Here is where we have talked about Erdrich before:

The masthead today is a detail from Franz Marc's "The "Yellow Cow."

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