Hicok, Bob

United States, (b. 1960)

Traffic Jam

  1. I try to make eye contact with a pig.
  2. I see rumps and flanks, snouts
  3. through the flesh-hauler’s metal mesh,
  4. but no eyes and therefore no piggy soul
  5. greets me. We who were speeding
  6. now inch toward fate, fabled endpoint
  7. when spoils will be allotted and heads
  8. chopped off. We think of change as waiting
  9. ahead, a leash dragging us forward. Onward
  10. occidental soldiers. The next installment
  11. may well be mundane, tar slingers patching
  12. the long slink of highway, or deadly,
  13. iron jaws chewing at a Nova’s collapsed door
  14. as a man struggles to remember the one prayer
  15. he knows. Condensed, it goes something like
  16. Our Father, save my ass. The pigs
  17. will soon fulfill their bacon and pork rind
  18. destiny. Their stench is a hook through my nose.
  19. Probably the farmer doesn’t mind. He smells
  20. cash, knows his shoes and snow tires
  21. are gifts of swine. In some psychic stratum
  22. his identity and theirs have fused,
  23. fostering a love similar to a painter’s
  24. infatuation with her fat tubes of color.
  25. On the highway the jostling begins. From the air
  26. it’d look like a loom, cars strung out
  27. like multi-colored threads. And here he comes,
  28. the inevitable throttle-jock in a Vette
  29. or Trans Am who figures going eighty’s
  30. even easier when everyone else sits still.
  31. He’ll cut through us like a ginsu knife,
  32. like a neutrino on its way to forever being
  33. on its way. Arrival is the issue. When will we get
  34. where, and will what’s happening there
  35. play like the cinema of our dreams? I’m learning
  36. to accept these moments as lesson. Slow down.
  37. Take time to smell the pigs. Try to look one
  38. in the eye, feel the press of its stubborn being
  39. against mine. Let what’s behind me catch up.
  40. The woman bearing nature’s smile. The kid
  41. endlessly waving because he’s just learned
  42. an open palm cracks the shell of others’ lives.
  43. The man crying because the radio’s sent him
  44. a song from adolescence, a true love tune
  45. he thought he’d outgrown but sings with a teenager’s
  46. sob-packed fury. As traffic stops some get out
  47. to inspect stasis. With horn blasts come pig squeals.
  48. Somewhere John Cage taps a dead man’s foot, pleased
  49. by the music of happenstance. I close my eyes
  50. and accept the idle of the pig truck as the blather
  51. of a river. What we say to rivers they say back.
  52. This makes us feel less alone, not so afraid.
  53. I picture the person who’ll shoot or stun the pigs
  54. singing to them, even stroking them once, quickly
  55. though delicately, an assembly line of slaughter
  56. and devotion. It’s my way of imagining a hand
  57. filling mine with confidence at the end.

© Bob Hicok
The Legend of Light. University of Wisconsin Press, 1995.

About the Poet

Bob Hicok, (b. 1960), US poet, winner of an NEA Fellowship and two Pushcart Prizes, he has published poems in The New Yorker, American Poetry Review and Poetry and Ploughshares. [DES-6/03]

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