Gretchen Primack

Michael Kleiman

Kingston is full of strong old
boats and cats and freaks
and strong old beer,

and now a burning body
in a pickup truck. It's Alabama,
but it's New York. All of us

are all of it, we are London and
outback and Casey, Iowa
with its strong old silos,

and the Keys with their candle shops
and gay men, and Kingston
with its burned gay body

and candle shops. Someone wanted
to get at the heart and meat
of him. Someone wanted

his head, no matter how much
it hurt. Someone let the fire burrow
under his skin like a lovesick vole.

It is absurd.
Someone took the head, stripped
the body of its furniture.

Who is not tired
of these definitions?
What Jew is not tired

of the ovens, what Black
the southern trees?
And what does talking do?

The Absence of Unnecessary Hurting

This is the press of the earth. One star hanging
there, honking like a goose. The lake
a smudge of black juice, the hill a draped
pancake. Frogs singing, sharp
and gutty.

Night! Clean air, clear water, five
baby mink in a pile, snoring.
What overwhelm can be dug from a sludge
below dock. On either side fruits slung
over branches, glued to their seeds.
I like so few people. Admire
fewer. Here in the slurry live the things
I consider; here in the hills. What do people
think of? What do they think of me, in my
carings, my loves that repel them,
make them shame?

Ripples lunch on each other, heavenly
body lights flicker, too cool for moths.
I don't want to hurt things.
The fine brown eye of an animal,
the broad slick leaf of a wing.
I'd like to be gentle here.
I want to be worthy of you, lovely, tired
earth, bury my face in your warm
broken bread.

Love This
       If you permit
       this evil, what is the good
       of the good of your life?
          -Stanley Kunitz

The body floods with chemicals saying love this,
and she does, and births it with love; it is a boy
she cleans and noses. It is pulled away now, she will never
touch him again, though she hears him howl a call and calls
back. Her breast milk is Meant for Others. Her son is a byproduct,
pulled away to lie in his chain. He will be packed for slaughter.
How ingenious we are! To make product from byproduct. To make
use of the child, kill and pack and truck him to the plate
of a woman who cuddles her cat and drinks the breast
milk and eats the son. And when the gallons slow, we start over,
and the chemicals tell her, love this! And she does, she loves,
though in a few hours she will never touch him again.
And when the milk slows too slow, she will join him on the line, a cut
of meat prepared with her own breast's butter. And how we will dine!
And talk of our glossy dogs! And watch her body break up
on our forks, and chew, while mothers in the world beg us
for the grain we stuffed her with, and children beg us
for the water we used to scour her blood from the factory
walls. And when her wastes and gases and terror
have clogged our air so hot our planet cooks beyond
breathing-then will we stop? Then will we grow kindness,
let the air and mothers cool and breathe?

About the Author

Gretchen Primack's poems have appeared in The Paris Review, Prairie Schooner, FIELD, Best New Poets, and elsewhere. Her chapbook The Slow Creaking of Planets came out last year from Finishing Line Press. She teaches and advises with the Bard Prison Initiative and works on behalf of kindness towards (other) animals. Her website is

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