Hall, Donald

United States, (1928–2018)

Eating the Pig

  1. Twelve people, most of us strangers, stand in a room
  2. in Ann Arbor, drinking Cribari from jars.
  3. Then two young men, who cooked him,
  4. carry him to the table
  5. on a large square of plywood: his body
  6. striped, like a tiger cat’s, from the basting,
  7. his legs long, much longer than a cat’s,
  8. and the striped hide as shiny as vinyl.
  9.  
  10. Now I see his head, as he takes his place
  11. at the center of the table,
  12. his wide pig’s head; and he looks like the javelina
  13. that ran in front of the car, in the desert outside Tucson,
  14. and I am drawn to him, my brother the pig,
  15. with his large ears cocked forward,
  16. with his tight snout, with his small ferocious teeth
  17. in a jaw propped open
  18. by an apple. How bizarre, this raw apple clenched
  19. in a cooked face! Then I see his eyes,
  20. his eyes cramped shut, his no-eyes, his eyes like X’s
  21. in a comic strip, when the character gets knocked out.
  22.  
  23. This afternoon they read directions
  24. from a book: The eyeballs must be removed
  25. or they will burst during roasting. So they hacked them out.
  26. “I nearly fainted,” says someone.
  27. “I never fainted before, in my whole life.”
  28. Then they gutted the pig and stuffed him,
  29. and roasted him five hours, basting the long body.
  30.  
  31. * * *
  32.  
  33. Now we examine him, exclaiming, and we marvel at him—
  34. but no one picks up a knife.
  35.  
  36. Then a young woman cuts off his head.
  37. It comes off so easily, like a detachable part.
  38. With sudden enthusiasm we dismantle the pig,
  39. we wrench his trotters off, we twist them
  40. at shoulder and hip, and they come off so easily.
  41. Then we cut open his belly and pull the skin back.
  42.  
  43. For myself, I scoop a portion of left thigh,
  44. moist, tender, falling apart, fat, sweet.
  45. We forage like an army starving in winter
  46. that crosses a pass in the hills and discovers
  47. a valley of full barns—
  48. cattle fat and lowing in their stalls,
  49. bins of potatoes in root cellars under white farmhouses.
  50. barrels of cider, onions, hens squawking over eggs—
  51. and the people nowhere, with bread still warm in the oven.
  52.  
  53. Maybe, south of the valley, refugees pull their carts
  54. listening for Stukas or elephants, carrying
  55. bedding, pans, and silk dresses,
  56. old men and women, children, deserters, young wives.
  57.  
  58. No, we are here, eating the pig together.
  59.  
  60. * * *
  61.  
  62. In ten minutes, the destruction is total.
  63.  
  64. His tiny ribs, delicate as birds’ feet, lie crisscrossed.
  65. Or they are like crosshatching in a drawing,
  66. lines doubling and redoubling on each other.
  67.  
  68. Bits of fat and muscle
  69. mix with stuffing alien to the body,
  70. walnuts and plums. His skin, like a parchment bag
  71. soaked in oil, is pulled back and flattened,
  72. with ridges and humps remaining, like a contour map,
  73. like the map of a defeated country.
  74.  
  75. The army consumes every blade of grass in the valley,
  76. every tree, every stream, every village,
  77. every crossroad, every shack, every book, every graveyard.
  78.  
  79. His intact head
  80. swivels around, to view the landscape of body
  81. as if in dismay.
  82.  
  83. “For sixteen weeks I lived. For sixteen weeks
  84. I took into myself nothing but the milk of my mother
  85. who rolled on her side for me,
  86. for my brothers and sisters. Only five hours roasting,
  87. and this body so quickly dwindles away to nothing.”
  88.  
  89. * * *
  90.  
  91. By itself, isolated on this plywood,
  92. among this puzzle of foregone possibilities,
  93. his intact head seems to want affection.
  94. Without knowing that I will do it,
  95. I reach out and scratch his jaw,
  96. and I stroke him behind his ears,
  97. as if he might suddenly purr from his cooked head.
  98.  
  99. “When I stroke your pig’s ears,
  100. and scratch the striped leather of your jowls,
  101. the furrow between the sockets of your eyes,
  102. I take into myself, and digest,
  103. wheat that grew between
  104. the Tigris and the Euphrates rivers.
  105.  
  106. “And I take into myself the flint carving tool,
  107. and the savanna, and hairs in the tail
  108. of Eohippus, and fingers of bamboo,
  109. and Hannibal’s elephant, and Hannibal,
  110. and everything that lived before us, everything born,
  111. exalted, and dead, and historians who carved in the Old Kingdom
  112. when the wall had not heard about China.”
  113.  
  114. I speak these words
  115. into the ear of the Stone Age pig, the Abraham
  116. pig, the ocean pig, the Achilles pig,
  117. and into the ears
  118. of the fire pig that will eat our bodies up.
  119.  
  120. “Fire, brother and father,
  121. twelve of us, in our different skins, older and younger,
  122. opened your skin together
  123. and tore your body apart, and took it
  124. into our bodies.”

 Donald Hall. Old and New Poems. New York: Houghton Mifflin Co. (1990).

Editor’s Note:

In his book, A Carnival of Losses: Notes Nearing Ninety (2018), Hall writes that “Eating the Pig” saying that morning after the actual feast with friends on which the poem is based, “I ran to my workroom and began to scribble pig lines of poetry. Out roared a tsunami of images and diphthongs and obscurities. My handwriting could not keep up.”

Former US Poet Laureate Billy Collins declared that “Eating The Pig” should be required reading for all literate carnivores.” in a review of Hall’s White Apples and the Taste of Stone (2006) for the Sunday, April 16, 2006 edition of the Washington Post.

About the Poet:

Donald Andrew Hall Jr., United States, (1928–2018), was a poet teacher and prose writer of essays, fiction, plays, and children’s books. He was also known for the anthologies he has edited and as a speaker and reader of his own poems.

In 1957 Hall took a position as assistant professor of English at the University of Michigan, where he remained until 1975. He was Poet Laureate of New Hampshire from 1984-1989 and served as U.S. Poet Laureate from 2006-2007. Hall used simple, direct language to evoke surrealistic imagery and to explore the longing for a more bucolic past and reflect on his abiding reverence for nature.

His honors include two Guggenheim fellowships, the Poetry Society of America’s Robert Frost Silver medal, a Lifetime Achievement award from the New Hampshire Writers and Publishers Project, and the Ruth Lilly Prize for poetry. In December 1993 he and his late wife, the poet Jane Kenyon (1947-1995) were the subject of an Emmy Award-winning Bill Moyers documentary, “A Life Together.” [DES-01/19]

Additional information:

  • Here is an audio recording (5,772KB) of Donald Hall reciting “Eating the Pig”.
    eating-a-pig.mp3
  • The Ann Arbor District Library web site has the chronicles in poetry, prose, photographs, and paintings of the now-famous Ann Arbor literary dinner that led to the poem “Eating The Pig”

From the Porkopolis Archive:

  • Photos of the dinner by Stephen Blos
  • A dinner drawing by Sarah Innes
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A random image of a pig, hog, boar or swine from the collection at Porkopolis.