Hodgins, Philip

Australia, (1959-1995)

The Universal Pig

  1. Some slow low shape slinks pink out of the blue.
  2. Lazy but cunning it comes round the bend.
  3. You think you see the pig before you do.
  4.  
  5. Something puts the wind up the kangaroo
  6. Who bounds away to where the fences end.
  7. Some slow low shape slinks pink out of the blue.
  8.  
  9. The dogs are raising hell at something new.
  10. It will be more than they can comprehend.
  11. You think you see the pig before you do.
  12.  
  13. Roosters are sounding cock-a-doodle-doo
  14. As if the farmer’s knife had been sharpened.
  15. Some slow low shape slinks pink out of the blue.
  16.  
  17. In the dairy the cows are nervous too.
  18. No gentle words can make the milk descend.
  19. You think you see the pig before you do.
  20.  
  21. And in their pen the restless pigs look through
  22. The rails for the arrival of their friend.
  23. Some slow low shape slinks pink out of the blue.
  24. Do you think you see the pig before you?

 Philip Hodgins . Selected Poems. Sydney: Angus and Robertson (1997).

Chopped Prose with Pigs

  1. There was one old barrel-size boar
  2. who just couldn’t hold off
  3. until the gate had been dragged open.
  4. On that evening, after milking,
  5. when we reversed down the lane
  6. with a load of reject peaches from the cannery
  7. this pig charged the electric fence
  8. like some quixotic warrior whose time
  9. had come. Knowing what the wires held
  10. he started screaming with metallic vigour
  11. way back before he got to the pain.
  12. We stood on the trailer in filthy stasis
  13. like two ham actors
  14. upstaged by a member of the audience.
  15. When it arrived the moment
  16. was wonderful. The scream
  17. went up to an ecstasy and the pig,
  18. soaking with mud, hurled and dragged
  19. itself frighteningly under the wires
  20. while at the arch of contact
  21. blue sparks burned into the twilight
  22. and into my memory.
  23. I had never seen so much intensity
  24. for so many small peaches.
  25.  
  26. But pigs will eat other things as well,
  27. including their offspring, and you.
  28. There was a farmer up at Yabba North
  29. who came unstuck in a pen
  30. full of pigshit and duplicitous saddlebacks
  31. one ordinary morning in January.
  32. When they hosed out the place
  33. they found about half the things
  34. he had been wearing
  35. plus all the bigger bones.
  36. I saw his widow doing some shopping in town
  37. not long after the funeral.
  38. She was loaded down with supermarket bags
  39. and grief.
  40.  
  41. Another time we found a bloated cow
  42. tipped over in a far paddock.
  43. The dead-cow truck wasn’t coming round
  44. so my father tied her to the tractor
  45. and lurched her down the lane
  46. like a small ship in a gentle swell.
  47. We stopped in the smell of pigs
  48. and while I rolled a cigarette
  49. he broke her into half a dozen pieces
  50. with an axe
  51. and threw them over to the pigs.
  52. When I went back early the next day
  53. I stood rolling another cigarette
  54. and looked at all the bigger bones
  55. and the pigs lying round in the innocent mud.
  56.  
  57. It was one of those same pigs, a sow,
  58. who got out of the churned-up paddock
  59. and went down to the dairy one afternoon.
  60. In the passageway there was a cattledog tied up
  61. to keep cats out of the milkroom,
  62. but he didn’t worry about the pig.
  63. She got in there
  64. and tipped over an eight-gallon cream can
  65. and then licked it all up.
  66. We found her three days later
  67. lying very still in an empty drain
  68. with a relentless cream hangover.
  69. Her eyes were so bloodshot
  70. that whenever she opened them
  71. it looked like she would bleed to death.
  72.  
  73. She recovered
  74. but later on she did go out that way.
  75. It happened early in the spring.
  76. I coaxed her into a single pen mechanically
  77. and smashed her between the eyes
  78. with a hammer.
  79. After pushing a knife through the jugular
  80. I rolled her to one side
  81. until most of the blood had pumped out.
  82. It spread across the concrete
  83. like an accident
  84. and made me think how the cream
  85. must have spread the same way.
  86. I scalded and scoured her thoroughly
  87. and when I hung her up
  88. and drew the knife down her front
  89. some of the guts pushed out
  90. like odds and sods from an overloaded cupboard.
  91. Reaching in for the rest
  92. had me disgorging handfuls of animal warmth.
  93.  
  94. When the job was done
  95. I hoisted her out of catreach
  96. in muslin as clean as a bridal veil
  97. and threw the chopped shinbones
  98. to the cattledog.
  99. I can still hear him
  100. outside his tipped-over forty-four
  101. chewing them with a sloppy broken rhythm.

 Philip Hodgins . Selected Poems. Sydney: Angus and Robertson (1997).

Three Pig Diseases

1. Baby Pig Disease

  1. The scene is like Nativity.
  2. A sweet clear night outside
  3. while in the shed the farmer shines a torch
  4. so that the vet, down on his hands and knees,
  5. can move each shivering handful
  6. closer to the row of teats.
  7. The mother, groaning on her bed of hay,
  8. seems beached beyond their knowledge or experience.
  9. Pressed up against the wall
  10. she stares into a painful distance.
  11. There’s nothing that the farmer or the vet can do.
  12. Life is offering itself from those teats,
  13. swelling, dripping, souring
  14. and the piglets just won’t drink.
  15. It’s like an obstinate belief.
  16. Over the next few days and nights they’ll lose
  17. what’s left of their reserves of glycogen
  18. and die, having only ever processed
  19. what was theirs from birth:
  20. a pattern clenching against growth.
  21. Almost obscured behind the field of light
  22. the farmer knows that it was useless to call the vet.
  23. So does the vet.
  24. But there are some rituals
  25. that must be carried through.


2. Erysipelas

  1. The farmer and his rifle lean quietly on the rails.
  2. Too late for penicillin.
  3. The Ag Department notice put paid to that.
  4. He should have acted earlier.
  5. He thinks he even knows the one who brought it in,
  6. the old Yorkshire boar he picked up at a clearing sale.
  7. Not that it matters now.
  8. The pigs are vomiting, if they feed at all,
  9. and on their skin
  10. are spreading reddish-purple wrinkled shapes.
  11. Each day a little more.
  12. The farmer thinks half consciously
  13. they’ve turned into salamis before their time.
  14. The image of a supermarket deli passes through his mind,
  15. a range of processed pigmeats,
  16. their piggy colours whole or sliced, bare or wrapped
  17. laid out on plastic trays behind the glass,
  18. all of it so cold and clean.
  19. He leans on the rails,
  20. which like everything else will have to be burnt.
  21. He stabs with a boot
  22. into the dirt, which will have to be treated.
  23. Over at the house the rest of the family
  24. is wondering if they’ll have to leave.
  25. It’s getting late.
  26. Loading the rifle for the first of many times
  27. he wipes the bullet through his hair,
  28. a habit handed down by his father,
  29. who always oiled a bullet or a nail that way
  30. before he banged it in.


3. Swine Dysentery

  1. The pigs are feverish.
  2. They’re shitting stuff that looks like porridge
  3. flecked with blood.
  4. The pens are full of it.
  5. The farmer bends down
  6. and carefully looks at what’s collected on his boots.
  7. His fear is that the texture there
  8. is bits of lining from the animals’ intestines:
  9. an appetite consuming itself.
  10. If dysentery has gone that far
  11. a farmer might as well just give the fight away.
  12. But here it’s not so bad, only a skirmish.
  13. He thinks about what happened
  14. to his father in the First World War,
  15. that line the Sergeant was reported to have said
  16. not long before the end,
  17. You really know you’ve had it when you shit your guts out
  18. and how the final letter home
  19. described the colours of the war.
  20. It said his father hardly ever saw blood red
  21. because the colours were mostly dull:
  22. drab uniforms, rank stews,
  23. and when the glossy liquids in a man spilled out
  24. they nearly always got mixed in with the mud.
  25. Like someone planting seeds,
  26. a man who hopes to start again after tragedy,
  27. the farmer makes his way along the churned-up troughs
  28. pushing in the pills of penicillin.
  29. By the time he finishes
  30. there’s still a generous handful of the pills
  31. left over in the box.
  32. When he thinks how much his pigs are worth
  33. these little powdery pearls cost bugger all.
  34. Cheap enough to waste on pigs,
  35. he says to himself as he walks away
  36. thinking about that family of drugs
  37. that might have saved his father.

 Philip Hodgins . Selected Poems. Sydney: Angus and Robertson (1997).

The End of the Season

  1. The sadness of the cows
  2. is all too evident.
  3. Their heads are down,
  4. tears deepen their eyes,
  5. and when the farmer
  6. finally herds his herd
  7. into the milking shed
  8. he only gets a small
  9. nostalgic bucketful —
  10. the last one for the year.
  11. Too much imbued with loss
  12. to be used for butter
  13. the warm yellow milk
  14. is taken behind the shed
  15. and given to the pigs.

 Philip Hodgins . Selected Poems. Sydney: Angus and Robertson (1997).

Second Thoughts on The Georgics

(excerpt)

  1. But when you talk about hygiene
  2. it’s pigs you have to be most careful with.
  3. They’re more susceptible to sickness
  4. and disease than any other farm animal
  5. (though they’re actually one of the cleanest).
  6. Make sure their pens have a concrete floor
  7. with good gutters and a decent fall
  8. so they can be washed out easily,
  9. and try to have weld-mesh separating them
  10. rather than timber, which can hold disease
  11. (and because, given half a chance, most pigs
  12. will chew their way out of a timber pen).
  13. No names, but back home one of our neighbours
  14. was into pigs in a pretty big way
  15. and the bugger did none of these things.
  16. So it wasn’t surprising when all his sows
  17. came down with a dose of leptospirosis.
  18. There was what they call an “abortion storm”.
  19. All the piglets were born prematurely
  20. and being weak they died soon afterwards.
  21. He treated the whole herd with streptomycin
  22. but obviously it was too late by then.
  23. He even tried burning the infected carcasses
  24. round the back of his machinery shed
  25. but that was just another balls-up.
  26. They didn’t burn very well and dogs
  27. carried pieces of them all over the district.
  28. You’d find some half-burnt bit of pig
  29. down a back paddock miles away,
  30. or worse, you’d find your three-year-old kid
  31. playing with one on the front doorstep.
  32. And of course what happened in the end
  33. was that other herds contracted the disease
  34. and people started getting sick with it too.
  35. Some farmers were laid up for weeks.
  36. All in all it was a real disaster.
  37. So you see, it’s not just boutique beer
  38. out on the verandah after the wool cheque.
  39. There’s any number of things can go wrong
  40. no matter what type of farming you do,
  41. and the only thing you can be sure of
  42. is that you’ll never get a fair return
  43. for all the hard hours you put in.
  44. They might be useful for writing down
  45. a bit of didactic pastoral stuff
  46. in the language that reminds you of home
  47. but that’s about where it ends.
  48. If Virgil was here I reckon he’d agree.
  49. Even keeping bees is a waste of time —
  50. better to take your honey where you find it.

 Philip Hodgins . Animal Warmth. North Ryde, NSW: Angus and Robertson (1990)

About the Poet:

Philip Hodgins, Australia, (1959-1995), was a poet. His parents were dairy farmers in Katandra West, Victoria, and the experience of growing up on a farm in rural Australia would become central to Hodgins’s poetry.

In 1986, Hodgins enrolled at the University of Melbourne as a full-time student, and the same year published his first poetry collection, Blood and Bone, which won the New South Wales Premier’s Literary Award for Poetry in 1987. He was the the author of four more poetry collections and a verse novel before his death.

A skilful exponent of traditional poetic forms, Hodgins’s poetry often reflects on aspects of his personal experience, such as life and work in Australian rural communities, and on living with a terminal illness, in measured, unsentimental and sometimes stark imagery. His verse novella Dispossessed describes the last weeks of a poor rural family about to be evicted from their farm. [DES-02/18]

A random image of a pig, hog, boar or swine from the collection at Porkopolis.