Six boys, a calf’s tongue each, one task —
to gulp each slick muscle down in turn,
to swallow each vein whole and not give
back a word, a sign, our mothers’ names.
The scab stripped off, the ritual learned —
five boys step out across an empty field.
Five boys step out across an empty field
to find a fire already made, the task
to dock then brand a single lamb. We learnt
fast how to hold, then cut, then turn
each tail away, to print in them our names —
our ownership. We dock, we brand, give
iron to the skin until at last their legs give.
Four boys step out across an empty field,
each small child waiting for a name,
our own name to be called, the next task
ours to own, ours to slice into, to turn
each blade, to shear off skin until we learnt
the weight of it. One by one we learnt
the force our bodies hold, the subtle give
our own hands have, how not to turn
our gaze. Three boys stand in a frozen field —
each child stripped and hosed, the next task
not to read the wind but learn the names
we have for snow, each name
we have given to the world. To then unlearn
ourselves, the self, this is — the hardest task.
To have nothing left. No thing but heat to give.
Two boys step out across an empty field.
Still waiting for the call, waiting for our turn,
waiting to become, to dig, to turn
at last our hands into the soil then name
the weakest as an offering — the field
opened to a grave, my last chore not to learn
the ground but taste it closed. I don’t give
back a word, surprise I am the task —
that what the land gives it must then learn
to turn back into soil. One child, a name its task
to steal. Five boys turn from an empty field.