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By Rebecca Hawkes
I am trying to go vegetarian but finding myself weak, week to week browsing the meat aisle at a linger close enough to chill my arms to gooseflesh. I only buy stuff so processed it hardly makes sense to call it meat. Saveloy, nugget, continental frankfurter; whatever gets extruded pink beyond possible memory of the preceding body. Between the red and yellow flags delineating the PORK section, I fondle sheets of pig skin through their clingfilm. Flaps of fat and dermis, bloodless as the nude silicone on a sex doll. Sad rubber reanimates in the oven. Whimpering fat melts to breathless squeal. The grill huffs, fogs my glasses like hot breath. Like kissing someone else’s boyfriend right outside her flat in winter. Sometimes the pig has not been properly shaved. Needle hairs prick my lips. Sometimes draw blood. Sometimes red ink from the slaughterhouse is printed on the sallow skin. Lipstick; damp napkin.The worst possible outcome is unfurling the limpid rind from its plastic tray only to find a nipple tucked inside. I try to cut it out but no knife in my house is sharp enough. The nipple stares a pert pink accusation. It follows me around the room. I score the skin, scrub it raw with salt and rapeseed oil. The nipple winks at me. Weeps in the pan as it shrinks to helpless hiss and spit. The crackling bubbles perfectly crisp. Blisters where I burn my tongue on it.
The poet and the poem
Becca and I met ages a go in an undergrad poetry class and we were each immediately drawn to what I would describe as a kind of determined indecency in the other’s work. She wrote me a poem about wanting to put my hands in a blender and naturally I cherish it. As well as a poet she is a painter and sculptor, and everything she creates, in whatever form, is vivid and lush and extreme. “The flexitarian” is from her collection Softcore Coldsore in AUP New Poets 5, a recent revival of the series.
Why I like it
This poem is just so gross. No one can write gross poems like Becca can, poems that relish their own grossness, even flaunt it as a kind of grisly beauty. I recommend reading it aloud. You don’t read ‘The flexitarian’ so much as eat it, the language rich and sticky in your mouth. I’ve heard Becca read this poem aloud and make an entire audience writhe. It’s rare to find a poem that makes people incapable of sitting still, and this one pinches you right in the viscera. There’s something kind of occult about it and I think Becca knows that and takes great delight in the power she has to seduce and horrify.
I recently heard Becca describe a period in her childhood when she was completely certain that she was a werewolf – that inside her body there was “this other creature, with all my rage and speed.” For me that describes the experience of reading Becca’s poems; she writes directly from her animal, and I can feel it waking up something animal in me too.
Best line to bust out
The poem is made up of jaw-dropping lines, but I think my favourite one to say, and hear, is “Saveloy, nugget, continental frankfurter.” It’s so simple but such an immaculately arranged progression of consonants. Say it right now. Whisper it to your lover.