Matthews, William

United States, (1942-1997)

Sooey Generous

  1. Saint Anthony, patron of sausage makers,
  2. guide my pen and unkink my tongue. Of swine
  3. I sing, and of those who tend and slaughter them,
  4. of slops and wallows and fodder, of piglets
  5. doddering on their stilty legs, and sows
  6. splayed to offer burgeoned teat to sucklers,
  7. and the four to five tons of manure
  8. a pig (that ambling buffet) reinvests
  9. in the soil each year; of truffle dowsers
  10. and crunchers of chestnuts and acorns I sing.
  12. In medieval Naples, each household
  13. kept a pig on a twenty-four-foot tether,
  14. rope enough that the hooved Hoover could
  15. scour the domain, whereas in Rome
  16. pigs foraged the streets haunted today by
  17. rat-thin cats, tendons with fur. In Paris
  18. in those years the langueyers, the “tonguers,”
  19. or meat inspectors, lifted a pig’s tongue
  20. to look for white ulcers, since the comely
  21. pig in spoiled condition could poison
  23. a family. Indeed the Buddha died
  24. from eating spoiled pork, vegetarians
  25. I know like to insist, raising the stakes
  26. from wrong to fatal, gleefully. Perhaps
  27. you’ve read the bumper sticker too: A Heart
  28. Attack Is God’s Revenge for Eating His
  29. Little Friends. Two major religions
  30. prohibit eating pork. Both creeds were forged
  31. in deserts, and the site-specific pig,
  32. who detests dry mud, has never mixed well
  34. with nomads or vice versa. Since a pig
  35. eats everything, just as the cuisines that
  36. sanctify the pig discard no fragment
  37. of it, it makes sense to eat it whole hog
  38. or shun it altogether, since to eat
  39. or not to eat is sacral, if there’s a choice
  40. in the matter. To fast is not to starve.
  41. The thirteen ravenous, sea-queasy pigs
  42. Hernando de Soto loosed near Tampa
  43. in 1542 ate whatever
  45. they liked. How glad they must have been to hoove
  46. some soil after skidding in the slick hold
  47. week after dark week: a pig without sun
  48. on its sullied back grows skittish and glum.
  49. Pigs and pioneers would build America.
  50. Cincinnati was called Porkopolis
  51. in the 1830s; the hogs arrived,
  52. as the hunger for them had, by river,
  53. from which a short forced march led to slaughter.
  54. A new country travels on its belly,
  56. and manufacture starts in the barnyard:
  57. hide for leather and stomach for pepsin.
  58. In France, a farm family calls its pig
  59. “Monsieur.” According to a CIA
  60. tally early in 1978,
  61. the Chinese kept 280 million
  62. of the world’s 400 million pigs;
  63. perhaps all of them were called “The Chairman.”
  64. Emmaeus, swineherd to Odysseus,
  65. guarded 600 sows and their litters
  67. (the males slept outside), and no doubt each sow
  68. and piglet had its own name in that rich
  69. matriarchal mire. And I like to think
  70. that in that mild hospice future pork roasts
  71. fattened toward oblivion with all
  72. the love and dignity that husbandry
  73. has given up to be an industry,
  74. and that the meat of Emmaeus’s coddled
  75. porkers tasted a little sweeter for
  76. the graces of affection and a name.

© the estate of William Matthews. After All: Last Poems. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1998. Also published in Quarterly West, a literary magazine based at the University of Utah in Salt Lake City.

Truffle Pigs

  1. None of these men, who all run truffle pigs,
  2. compares a truffle to itself. “Fossil
  3. testicles,” says one. And another: “No.
  4. Inky, tiny brains, smart only about
  5. money.” They like to say, “You get yourself
  7. a pig like this, you’ve got a live pension.”
  8. The dowsing sows sweep their flat snouts across
  9. the scat and leaf rot, scurf and duff, the slow
  10. fires of decay. They know what to ignore;
  11. these pigs are innocent of metaphor.
  13. Tumor, fetus, truffle – all God’s creatures
  14. jubilate to grow. Even the diffident truffle
  15. gives off a faint sweat from the joyful work
  16. of burgeoning, and by that spoor the pigs
  17. have learned to know them and to root them out.

© the estate of William Matthews. After All: Last Poems. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1998. Also published in The New Yorker. Sept. 4, 1995.

Photo of the Author with a Favorite Pig

  1. Behind its snout like a huge button,
  2. like an almost clean plate, the pig
  3. looks candid compared to the author,
  4. and why not? He has a way with words,
  5. but the unspeakable pig, squat
  6. and foursquare as a bathtub,
  7. squints frankly. Nobody knows
  8. the trouble it’s seen, this rained-out
  9. pork roast, this ham escaped into
  10. its corpulent jokes, its body of work.
  11. The author is skinny and looks serious:
  12. what will he say next? The copious pig
  13. has every appearance of knowing,
  14. from his pert, coiled tail to the wispy tips
  15. of his edible ears, but the pig isn’t telling.

© the estate of William Matthews. Selected Poems and Translations 1969-1991. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1992.

Unrelenting Flood

  1. Black key. White key. No,
  2. that’s wrong. It’s all tactile;
  3. it’s not the information
  4. of each struck key we love,
  5. but how the mind and leavened
  6. heart travel by information.
  7. Think how blind and near-
  8. blind pianists range along
  9. their keyboards by clambering
  10. over notes a sighted man
  11. would notice to leave out,
  12. by stringing it all on one
  13. longing, the way bee-fingered Art
  14. Tatum did, the way we like
  15. joy to arrive: in such
  16. unrelenting flood the only
  17. way we can describe it
  18. is by music or another
  19. beautiful abstraction,
  20. like the ray of sunlight
  21. in a child’s drawing
  22. running straight to a pig’s ear,
  23. tethering us all to our star.

© the estate of William Matthews.  found in  The Jazz Poetry Anthology. Sascha Feinstein, Ed.  Bloomington: Indiana University Press (1991-1996). First appeared in American Poetry Review.  (11:2) Mr-Ap 82, p.18.

About the Poet:

William Matthews (1942-1997), was a U.S. poet and essayist, born and raised in Cincinnati, Ohio. Matthews earned a BA from Yale University and an MA from the University of North Carolina.

Matthews held various academic positions at institutions including Wells College, Cornell University, the University of Colorado, and the University of Washington. At the time of his death he was a professor of English and director of the creative writing program at New York’s City College.

During his lifetime he published eleven books of poetry and two posthumous collections were also issued. Much of Matthews’s poetry explores the themes of life cycles, the passage of time, and the nature of human consciousness and human foibles. He also often focuses on his particular enthusiasms: jazz music, basketball, and his children. [DES-01/12]

Editor’s Note:

The poet Diann Blakely called William Matthews to my attention. Blakely was a student of Matthews, and he remained her mentor as her writing career began.

Additional information:


  1. Ooh, I’m so mad! I thought the name ‘Sooey Generous’ was my incredibly clever creation but I see there’s already a poem with that title above. I just went out and got, though, so who’s laughing now?


    1. Yea, sorry, Patrisko… That phrase spelled that way has been bumping around since long before the internet. But that does not make you any less clever, for sure. Independent invention counts for a lot. I hope you enjoy your email address, though it will require some spelling out and explanation when you give it out verbally. I’ll toast your cleverness with a single malt this weekend. Thanks for visiting Porkopolis. Root on!


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