April 7, 2014KR OnlinePoetry

The Sausage-Master of Minsk

From The Kenyon Review, New Series, Winter 1980, Vol. II, No. 1

        I was sausage-master of Minsk;
young girls brought parsley to my shop
and watched as I ground
coriander, garlic, and calves’ hearts.

At harvest time they’d come with sheaves:
hags in babushkas, girls plump
as quail, wrapped in bright tunics,
switching the flanks of oxen.
Each to the other, beast and woman,
goggle-eyed at the market’s flow.

My art is that of my father:
even among stinking shepherds, bean-
brained as the flocks they tend, our
sausages are known. The old man
sits in back, ruined in his bones, a scold.

So it was my trade brought wealth.
My knuckles shone with lard, flecks
of summer savoury clung to my palms.
My shop was pungent with spiced meat
and sweat: heat from my boiling pots,
my fretful labors with casings,
expertly stuffed. Fat women in shawls
muttered and swabbed their brows.
Kopeks made a racket on my tray.

But I would have none of marriage:
the eldest son, no boon,
even with the shop’s renown, was
I to my parents. Among mothers
with daughters, full-bottomed, shy,
I was a figure of scorn.

In that season when trade was a blur,
always, from the countryside, there was one,
half-formed, whose eyes, unlike
the haggling matrons’ squints, roamed
and sometimes found my own.
And of her I would inquire.
Before seed-time they always returned.

Tavern men speak freely of knives,
of this, of that. Call me a fool.
For in spring I would vanish
to the hills and in a week return,
drawn, remote, my hair mussed,
interlaced with fine, pubescent yarn.

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August Kleinzahler is the author of eleven books of poetry, including The Hotel Oneira (FSG, 2013), Sleeping It Off in Rapid City (FSG, 2008), and The Strange Hours Travelers Keep (FSG, 2004), winner of the International Griffin Poetry Prize. His honors include a fellowship from the Guggenheim Foundation, the Lila Acheson-Reader’s Digest Award for Poetry, and an Academy Award in Literature from the American Academy of Arts and Letters.