Jackowska, Nicki

England, (b. 1942)

Matanzas in the Bath Arms

  1. I’m sitting in the amber shadows of the Bath Arms
  2. the window behind me yellow, wrinkled like ancient skin
  3. and my beer sparking the sun’s light deep in its vat.
  4. During that lunchtime stroll to the bar and back
  5. I’ve tipped over the edge of today’s fortress,
  6. swung on my own rope across the moat and landed
  7. in front of him, my hand held out for blessing.
  8. It didn’t take long for conversation to prickle
  9. into life; the barman clears my ashtray every time
  10. I twist an empty crisp-packet into a pig’s tail
  11. catching the slow whirl of alcohol across the brain
  12. from one ear to another; then the pub’s pantomime,
  13. how they drift and posture, how the mid-day punters
  14. sink a pint. Collars shift uneasy on their necks
  15. among the niggle and spite of this one hour’s grace.
  16. And the girls together lean on each other’s eyes
  17. for confirmation. The barman hovers, executes careful
  18. ballets according to my progress down the glass.
  19. And on the third day he arabesques across my tracks
  20. bloodless spectacles slipping a touch on the bridge
  21. and tells me of Majorca, the flat he owns there
  22. close to the shore, and the high citadel where Chopin
  23. lingered on the terrace, spilled his exquisite notes
  24. to catch the moment’s ache between one deepening
  25. indigo and another; I tell him I was there once
  26. on that same hiatus, trying to forge a sensibility
  27. outside my father’s frame. He talks of ritual,
  28. the pig they slaughter, slitting the throat
  29. the hulk up-ended to drip his passion out.
  30. And into the Bath Arms steals another music
  31. of the dying beast, his frantic eye, blood pouring
  32. scarlet seams across the carpet and its unlit faces.
  33. The barman turns to sepia, mouthing his tale.
  34. They call it matanzas , he says, matanzas when he dies.
  35. I hear the scorched earth hissing beneath the pig,
  36. shriek of a vessel loosing its life too fast.
  37. Matanzas , he says, pulling the pump, a golden liquid
  38. spouting merrily from his hand, caught in my glass.

© Nicki Jackowska. Lighting a Slow Fuse: New and Selected Poems. London: Enitharmon Press (1998).

Editor’s Note:

The traditional matanza, or Spanish domestic pig slaughter and butchering is primarily a rural and village ritual. Pig-keeping and pork cookery hold an honored spot in Spanish culture and lore, with the ritual of the matanza as a cornerstone of Spanish country life.

Although it can take place at any time throughout the year, matanza is normally performed in the months of November and December so as to take advantage of the cold weather and ensure the meat will be as well-preserved as possible.

There is a lot of hard work involved in the preparation, butchering and processing of the various pig parts. Matanza is thought of as a fiesta in itself, and as such, can last over a period of up to three days. The plentiful consumption of wine, along with the cooking of various dishes ensures that it is an extremely convivial time, a time to share with friends and neighbours.

About the Poet:

Nicki Jackowska (b. 1942) is a British poet who has published six collections of poetry, three novels and a manual on language, Write for Life. She has 30 years experience as a creative writing tutor and is a dynamic performer of her work. She regularly collaborates with visual artists, musicians,both at the workshop stage and in finished performance.

She works as a creative writing tutor and advisor, collaborates with visual artists, and is a consummate performer of her poetry, drawing upon early theatrical roots. Behold is Nicki Jackowska’s seventh book of poetry. Jackowska has also received a Lannan Grant and an Arts Council England Grant for the writing of the fourth, The Lost Gardens of Mariamne which she hopes will soon be in print. [DES-07/12]

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