Monday, June 11, 2007

Another Hog Heaven?

It smells like body. It smells like game. The floors are wet and men stand waiting, their white smocks covered in red brown blood. It is an enclosed market, but the ends of the rows are open to the outside. From the sidewalk, you can smell raw meat. Some days there are scraps of flesh, pools of blood beside the public dumpsters that are shared with a bank. Inside, there are the men holding cleavers and knives. They stand beside grinding machines. They call out from in front of giant fluorescent-lit cases, laughing with each other, enticing customers. They are jovial. They are jokesters. They know body, so they know themselves. Each man has a stall, each stall a case. Inside hangs the meat. It is all meat, every meat, red meat, white meat, fatty pork, rabbit, game, goat and sheep. Heads hang, suspended by chains in mid air, eyes half closed, eyelids missing, eyes shut, their faces death masks, future suppers, suspended between their former lives and the strange place where they are now, so far from their bodies.

To see the meat is astounding. Massive sides of beef, shimmering with red muscle and yellow fat, hang on giant silver hooks, the flesh punctured fiercely and somehow supporting the incredible weight. Delicate rabbits hang, their tails and tiny feet still covered in downy fur, their stained teeth long in their heads. Rows of feetless chicken, their necks tucked neatly under their wings. Skin? No skin? There are piles of slippery brown livers waiting to be weighed and sliced, pyramids of pork shops, ready ready ready. It is a place of life and death, of fascination and fear. Eyes open wide when they first enter. Skin touches skin as people pass one another. Fat, muscle, bone, tendon, hair, organ, look at us. We are all bodies. We are all shimmering, we are all hungry, we are all looking for exactly what we want.

The meat men stand firmly in front of their cases. They hold shiny knives that they sharpen often. They call out to you as you pass. Prices! Deals! When I am alone, they call out to the young lady, bloody knife in one hand, eyes on my breasts. They stand beside round chopping blocks, heavy and worn. Sturdy enough for a man to disassemble a side of beef, small enough to fit comfortably in front of a stall. The men know meat. They know parts. They can carve the flesh of an animal as easily as a child carves soap, as precisely as a sculptor. The sound of their working is something that you will not hear anywhere else. The dull thud of meat hitting the block, the slide and thwack of knives slicing. I have left the market with meat in my hair. I have left with the taste in my mouth, the smell in my nose. Smell this. It smells like body. It smells like game. It is the most familiar smell, but it is like nothing I have smelled before.


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