Butcher’s blood ran through his family.
A Great War was on, and a war
needs meat. Vestey sharpened his knives
in Darwin, buying favours, enlisting workers
ready to take the heat.

He planned a slaughterhouse,
dreamed up caverns of ice
to keep the blood sweet.
He poured dollars like water and water
like the bore would never run dry.

When it did, he started on The Tank
with its walls of rock and sand
and shells from the bay nearby
(once upon a wartime,
a beach came to watch innocence die).

After the knife and the boiler
and the saving grace of salt, the meat
arrived at the Front as Bully Beef.
It was all a kind of fodder
from cattle to soldier, canned grief.

And the banquets were ordered
by chancellors and lords
fat with pride and lean on diplomacy
(words, gentlemen, can save you
a trench of blown meat).

A great folly – Vestey’s Meatworks –
for a Great War.
Now the tank lies empty
and severed like a veteran’s leg. Rusted
bones project beyond a butcher’s ambition.

So put a roof on slaughter. The sky won’t charge.
A tree weeps from the weight of the past
but, still, keeps becoming.

View this poem on The Disappearing »