A funny thing happened today on Manchester Road…
Walking down Manchester road,
in the last Thursday in June
and the air tastes fresh as a new penny.
People everywhere, on every surface,
the sidewalk, the road, like ants spiralled
around a dark trickle of honey.
The men in outdoor barber chairs
slough their dark hair, the women
in short skirts, tight jeans, burqas
push pram-bound toddlers
or shopping trolleys, hobbling on heels.
Everywhere is life, thinking
of life, if thinking at all. Most
caught up in the hustle and bustle,
a sensation of hurry resembling joy.
The easy choice is always laughter.
Talk about hair, the weather. Hang
half-drunk out the window of the fake
Irish pub and shout football scores.
A slim woman in a halter top
and combat boots sifts shallots
in a stall, rifling the vegetables
as she contemplates dinner.
All around is bloom, and fall.
And in the centre, death.
Between the wheel-burning tarmac
and the brute face of a wall, a plain
white van without windows. Insulated,
doors gaping, it resembles something
chosen by paedophiles or killers.
I find myself before its open maw.
Lined doors block the sidewalk
revealing a dark interior crammed
full of hung corpses. A man in red-
smeared white stands tall in the black,
wielding a long, sharp knife.
I stare up at them, long bodies
like exsanguinated dogs, furless
and marbled, like his outfit, red and white.
Gutless, like most people, denying their bowels,
they hang head downward as though defeated.
Bald-eyed, lidless, seeming
to stare but seeing nothing.
Lambs, after slaughter.
The man clothed in blood sees
me staring, invites me, ‘Come up.’
‘We killed them like this,
in a way that is holy. Heads
bowed in prayer. We severed
their windpipe, pierced the carotid.
Let the unclean blood drain to the floor,
we washed it all out.’
He looks at me, smiling; a fat,
friendly face unexpected in death.
‘How do you kill anything,’ I manage,
‘in a way that is holy? How do you meet God
with blood in your hands?’
He touches me on my bare forearm,
two fingers only, his hands folded
in blessing round the haft of the knife.
‘You kill with intent.’
‘You know what you are doing.
Accept it. Accept that in giving life
for others you take dishonour on yourself.
You look the lamb in the eyes
as you bring him his death,
unflinching, with no room for denial.
You send him off with a prayer,
for food taken, survival,
not gluttony. Praising God
through glazed eyes
and the blood of the lamb.’
I climb down on my knees out of darkness,
backing out in wonder from the cave of the dead.
My skin drenched in rose perfume
and the copper of corpses, the insides
of bodies, unhidden, without skin or mask.