The Pig Was Skinned

by Tamara Panici

BWR 48.2 Poetry Contest Winner

There was a man on my brother’s bed.

The man was in our bedroom.

I did not recognize the man.

The man was wearing colored robes.

My sister slept next to me.

She slept like a doll.

She slept next to me next to the bed next to the man in the room.

In the room something made small sounds.

It was a cockroach.

It was the wind.

It was a body.

That morning the pig was skinned.

The pig was skinned and taken out of her body.

First we sang to her.

Then we slit her.

Then we pulled her open.

We did not cry.

We did not vomit.

We took her liver and her heart.

We took her intestines and feet.

Her tongue, we took.

And the pig bled rivers.

The pig bled rivers like we bled rivers when our god killed us.

After our god killed us we became hungry.

We killed one pig.

Then another and another.

Then we killed the pig whose hairs we burned off with a hand torch.

And the act had its own body.

And the body moved about our bodies.

The pig’s hairs were light then dark then gone.

The act’s body was erect.

Our bodies were busy and hunched.

The ground drank the pig.

Then it drank her warmth.

The devil licked my toes.

The men licked the dirt.

I understood the dirt was made of bodies.

I knew it but could not describe it.

The day ate itself quickly again.

Again it bloated.

The woman appeared in the bloat of the night.

She appeared after the man.

Again I did not close my eyes.

Again I did not pull cloth over my face.

I was not paralyzed.

I wanted to enter the brightness.

I wanted to enter it alone.

The man stroked my brother’s back.

He stroked it like we stroked the pig’s back before the slit and pull.

My brother made sounds like a machine hitting a wall.

The woman’s body was big and small and fit nowhere.

The woman’s body was like a curtain caught in the wind.

Her skin ate air and retracted.

I ate air and vomited dreams.

I was a child.

My grief had been hollow for years.

My grief was hungry.

It ate itself.

I let it.

The pig’s soul hanged itself in the corner of the room.

In the corner of the room I hanged the pig’s soul.

The soul was a body like my body.

The body needed to decay to prove its existence.

I needed to see it but the woman’s dress obscured the body.

The woman’s dress was not fabric but skin.

It sparkled with small lights.

The room smelled of rust and wet chain-link.

The room smelled of burning flesh and lighter fluid.

My body was under a damp towel.

The air was thick and gelatinous.

Summer was thick and full of air.

I flipped the towel.

It was no longer cool.

The woman peeled.

She peeled away the skin from my head then poured words into the wound.

She did this without speaking.

Everything became a word.

The words moved away from themselves.

Each word moved as if its possessor had died.

Each word wanted to attach itself to something.

The pig’s soul made no sound.

Its silence was a word.

The man’s head fell off.

The man stopped stroking my brother’s back.

The man refused to put his head back on.

Above me the woman’s lips melted.

The woman held her tongue to my cheek.

She held it in her hand but I could not hear her.

So the woman opened her tongue.

From it came a long red ribbon.

And she waited.

She waited for me.

My brother and sister were asleep.

The man’s head threw itself into the middle of the room like a grenade.

It exploded.

My lips cracked.

My lips were on fire.

My body made words.

The words moved like kicked ants.

I did not open my mouth.

I did not speak.

I was afraid of angels.


Tamara Panici’s work has appeared or is forthcoming in POETRY, The American Journal of Poetry, Eastern Iowa Review, and elsewhere. In 2021, she was a finalist for the Ruth Lilly and Dorothy Sargent Rosenberg Fellowship from the Poetry Foundation. She is a full-time mother and writer who lives in Washington, D.C. with her daughter and partner.