Carol Lee Vail Prize Runner-up 2021


        by S.J. Cahill

I remember the soft velvet darkness
of night and the first colored cusp of dawn
the rocking rhythm of the loaded truck
and the sounds of the animals inside.

I remember the cattle pens and chutes
narrowing down and forcing them to go
into the slaughterhouse in single file
to the waiting men on the killing floor.

I remember the man with the hammer
and how he delivered that stunning blow
letting the cows bleed out while still alive
and eviscerated before they died.

I remember seeing their liquid eyes
watching the hooks and pulleys winch them up
while they are being flayed and dismembered
by men wearing bloody aprons and boots.

I remember their knives, so sharp and fast
like flashing lights along the moving line
where hundreds of cows were killed every day
packaged up as fodder for the masses.

I remember political functions
campaign banquets and rich donor dinners
serving tenderloin with lofty language
new promises for last election’s lies.

We’re at the portal of the abattoir
—which is another name for slaughterhouse—
looking at the labyrinth of pens and chutes
—hoping for ways to save democracy—

but its still the same old abattoir door
leading us back onto the killing floor.