First Lesson in Meat, 1984

by | May 20, 2015 | Poetry

They crash through
the ratty screen door,
all gunflash and colorful
beer cans.
Five men, blood or in-law,
their patchy-bearded
throats alive
with hunter laughter
and gruff guy chatter.
Up front, my grandfather.
Undisputed chief, he holds
the pink thing, the dead
rabbit-flesh thing,
one ear in each of his hands.

These were hands that held me
in my towel after a bath,
comforted me writhing
and screaming at dream demons
in the deepest cricket hours
of the night.
Hands that poured
my milk,
chocolate or white,
and parted my translucent hair,
and tied and delicately retied
my shoelaces after my mother
forbid me Velcro.

These were hands that often
rested so tenderly against
my cheek—
and still they could kill
and cut and rip
the skin from what they’d slayed.
And before they’d seen a sink
of soapy water,
they would reach out to hold
me again—
still my grandfather’s hands
but changed now,
somehow different.
Streaked in pink, washed.
But only in the blood
of their own making.


Photo: Wish of Tenderness by Sergio Pani

About The Author

Justin Hamm

Justin Hamm is the author of a full-length collection of poems, Lessons in Ruin, and two poetry chapbooks. His work has appeared in Nimrod, The Midwest Quarterly, Cream City Review, Sugar House Review, and elsewhere. Recent work also been selected for New Poetry From the Midwest and The Stanley Hanks Memorial Poetry Award from the St. Louis Poetry Center.