She calls
across the tenement valley
to her friends pulling
laundry off the cross-cut line
A block away, hogs hang
from steel question-marks
Guts pour from the gashes in their bellies
spill over the workers’ shoes
fall between the floor slats into
Miller’s River
She calls
Bernadette, Madge, Belinda
in the chopped syllables
of neighborhood women
unable to inhale enough breath
to exhale their words
without choking on the stench
Hogs from Chicago
shriek in the corrals
day and night
crammed tail to nose
fat round bodies
squeezed into ovals
Backwards, forwards

Pound the laundry
rinse water pink
Morning through night
the air stinks
In light, darkness
the river weighted with hog blood
settling like flatulence
in an airtight room
Time to cut loose
the slaughterhouse choke
on the throats of
Bernadette, Madge, Belinda
on the children wheezing and coughing
Dismantle the hogs
hung, swinging
Dismantle the bowels of the slaughterhouse
its bowels
blind Miller’s River
bloodshot red stare


Every evening, hundreds of workers
with hands they can never wash clean
tuck children under the covers
warm their cheeks with marbled palms
and later
in the black and white of night
trace the shape of sex with their lovers.
Who can wear red lipstick
wrap Christmas in its colors
cook tomato soup
knit a sweater, strands
of red wool?


The color of blood money

hog guts
pouring into a vermilion river

is the color of

the wide pink head, the scarlet tongue

her lungs

is the color of
his flame-red bloodshot eyes

Denise Bergman is the author of Seeing Annie Sullivan, poems based on the early life of Helen Keller’s teacher (Cedar Hill Books, 2005), and editor of City River of Voices, an anthology of urban poetry (West End Press).  Her poems have been published widely.