Knife or Hammer?
The first job I ever had
was on a little farm
where I lifted bails of hay
and stuck suction cups
to cows udders
to drive out the milk.
I worked hard – from morning till night
The farmer noticed it, and it
wasn’t long until he took me aside
and told me that I was his new
right hand man.
The next day when I came to work,
there was a little red haired
freckled face boy lifting those bails
of hay and sticking those suction cups
to the cows. And I smiled, quietly
mocking him under my breath.
Across the green fields,
the farmer led me to a little barn.
He opened the door
and guided me inside.
“Watch your step,” he said.
“What is this place?”
“You ever eat veal?”
“You’ll see then.”
With a flashlight he led me down
a short, dirt floored hall
and stopped in front of a closed door.
He looked at me
before pushing it open
and shone the flashlight
across the room. There, with their feet tied,
and laying down on their sides,
were rows of baby cows.
“Helps keep the meat tender
with them down on their sides like that,”
he said. “They can’t move.”
I just nodded.
Together, we untied their feet
and led one of them down
that dirt floored hall to another room.
“Do you want to knife or hammer,” he asked.
“Hammer,” I whispered.
He passed me the mallet.
“Hit it over the head as hard as you can.”
“Okay,” I nodded.
He held the baby cow
and I swung the hammer.
He took the knife
slit its throat
and then hung it up
to bleed it dry.
My promotion ended there
and the little red haired freckle faced boy
got the job and I went back to
slinging bails of hay
and milking the cows,
always watching from a distance
as the farmer led the boy into the barn
and watching as the boy came out
half hour later,
covered in blood and smiling
from ear to ear, telling me
it was a much better job than mine.
“Were you the knife
or were you the hammer,” he asked.
“Hammer,” I said.
With the blood still wet
on his shirt,
there was no use in me
returning his question.
The answer was obvious.
Life is Beautiful
We painted the kitchen ceiling sky blue,
the walls a lime green. Later,
we went out to the back porch,
drank Greek beer and smoked the cigarettes
I brought back with me from Russia.
The stars peeked out-
the north star first
and the others followed
I pointed out the Big Dipper
and you nodded.
It was quiet -
black space and the crickets.
The sounds of the television
poured out the window –
the 11 o’clock news
where a man in a town I’ve never been
died while jumping into a man hole
to save a baby. The baby is alright –
she’s at the hospital overnight
for precautionary reasons
and the man, while dead,
is tonight’s hero.
The Night I Went Crazy
The night I went crazy is
the night I had too much to drink,
and walked across the street
and preached to the cops about
their god and their guns.
They didn’t listen, but they
moved quick and weren’t long
tossing me into the back of the cop car.
And instead of driving me to the police station,
they drove me to the hospital,
where they flushed my insides
and stuck me in a room for two weeks
where I talked aloud to myself
and saw my parent’s every couple of days.
They looked at me different,
well, at least my mother did. My father
would look the other way, or at the ceiling
or out the window. And when I spoke he
The nurses were nice, they fed me toast
with cheese whiz, and walked me across the
street on the week-ends to some fast food restaurant.
Other times they sat at the foot of my bed
and just talked.
The day before my release, they took me
to the bathroom and asked me to lift my head up
and look myself in the mirror. I couldn’t. I stared
down at my feet. When they asked why, I could
only shrug my shoulders and wait
until they left.
You see, I’ve always been stubborn
and scared to admit,
that when I looked at myself
in the mirror,
I didn’t see anything at all.
Moved to Beijing -
Fell asleep on the red eye
next to an old man
who wasn’t scared of dying.
She met me at the airport
wearing shiny black flats
and a purple dress that fell
gracelessly below her knee.
That night she whispered
she once breathed North Korean air
and bowed down to the leader
the same man who killed her father
the same man who sent her mother
and her sisters to the camp
where they worked you until
your fingers melt and your heart stops.
We laid awake
as she ran her malnourished fingers
over my body and promised that no more
would my heart be a stranger.
I nodded my haunted head
and blinked my eyes,
never losing sight of her crooked toenails
that I painted cobalt blue the night before
while she stared at the picture
and prayed (very softly)
and I prayed too (silently)
but it never occurred to me
until I started to write this poem
many years later
that we were praying
for entirely different reasons.
Tyler Bigney is a writer from Nova Scotia, Canada. His poems, short stories, and travelogues appear in Poetry New Zealand, Nerve Cowboy, Iodine, Underground Voices and Maverick among others.
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