Edwina Trentham

Meat

His favorite was Cornish game hens, tender
breasts, roasted round as the pads of her hands,
small ribs snapped between his teeth—tenderly—
wings easily torn free, crisp but tender.
He loved meat, but she had to buy it blind
while she was pregnant, discerning tender
purely by touch, fingering tenderloins,
bleeding mounds of chopped beef, while swallowing
spurts of bile crowding her throat, swallowing
the urge to run, to run, while she murmured tender
reassurances to the child lurching inside
her belly, crooned them both safely outside.

Once he found her washing the inside
of a chicken, with a brisk tenderness,
sluicing the dish soap inside and outside
pale, pimply thighs, pushed carefully aside,
foam heaped like little snow drifts around her hands.
She told him the bacteria inside
raw chickens was disgusting, said, Besides
no one will ever know, then, like a blind
woman, stumbled past him and pulled the blind
above the sink down, hid the dark outside
where it belonged, forced herself to swallow,
rinsed the chicken—swallowing, swallowing.

Years after they split, she reads of swallow-
sized birds—ortolans—blinded, kept inside
a dark space twenty-one days, swallowing                                                               
millet and grapes, forced to gorge, to swallow,
till their fat triples in volume, turns tender,
sweet as hazelnuts. Then they are swallowed                                                                      
whole—plucked, roasted, served hot in one swallow
of Armagnac-drowned meat. She reads, one hand
clamped to her mouth to stop the bile, one hand
hiding the picture of men swallowing
the roasted songbirds whole, the men blinded
by white napkins draped on their heads, blinded,


so they can breathe in the sweet scent, stay blind
to all else around them, just swallowing,
savoring. She reads of one gourmand—blind
like the others to all but this joy, blind
to query, to outrage from any side—
who craves flesh, fat, tiny bones, hot. Purblind
is the word, she thinks, for men who crave blind
little songbirds, gorged to prime tenderness
for their delectation, one small, tender
bite, although some, perhaps, pray God is blind
to their indulgences, faces and hands
hidden by those napkin-hoods, their hands

grasping that perfect morsel, concealed hands
thrusting bones between teeth, all veiled, blinded
by peaks of white linen. Later those hands
will tear the napkins free to wipe, scrub hands
clean—clean hands, pure hearts after one swallow
of ecstasy. She thinks of other hands
hard to wash clean, sees in her mind the hands
of an ex-lover as he stood beside
her car, then wedged a bleeding steak outside
on her windshield, and taped a handwritten
note near it—you are too thin. She lets one hand
touch the ortolan’s picture tenderly,

and recalls that same lover, tenderly
feeding her small morsels of meat by hand,
as if she were a baby bird, half blind,
who couldn’t feed herself, how she swallowed

each bite, made sure it was safe inside her.