C. K. Williams 1936-2015 “Butchers”

C. K. Williams is dead. A rare outward-looking poet, he was brave enough to contemplate big mysteries of life in long sentences that might otherwise belong in essays. An ekphrastic poem (based on a work of art) like this one, “Butchers”, multiplies meaning as a poet considers the work of a painter of another age. C. K. Williams taught at Princeton and lived in Paris.

                    Carcass of Beef, Rembrandt, Louvre Museum, Paris

Butchers

1
Thank goodness we were able to wipe the Neanderthals out, beastly things,
from our mountains, our tundra—that way we had all the meat we might need.

Thus the butcher can display under our very eyes his hands on the block,
and never refer to the rooms hidden behind where dissections are effected,

where flesh is reduced to its shivering atoms and remade for our delectation
as cubes, cylinders, barely material puddles of admixtured horror and blood.

Rembrandt knew of all this—isn’t his flayed beef carcass really a caveman?
It’s Christ also, of course, but much more a troglodyte such as we no longer are.

Vanished those species—begone!—those tribes, those peoples, those nations—
Myrmidon, Ottoman, Olmec, Huron, and Kush: gone, gone, and goodbye.

2
But back to the chamber of torture, to Rembrandt, who was telling us surely
that hoisted with such cables and hung from such hooks we too would reveal

within us intricate layerings of color and pain: alive the brush is with pain,
aglow with the cruelties of crimson, the cooled, oblivious ivory of our innards.

Fling out the hooves of your hands! Open your breast, pluck out like an Aztec
your heart howling its Cro-Magnon cries that compel to battles of riddance!

Our own planet at last, where purged of wilderness, homesickness, prowling,
we’re no longer compelled to devour our enemies’ brains, thanks to our butcher,

who inhabits this palace, this senate, this sentried, barbed-wire enclosure
where dare enter none but subservient breeze; bent, broken blossom; dry rain.

                

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