Rat Point

Death came once a fortnight 
at Rat Point, in early evening. 
We hunkered on the bank 
above the killing board, weird 
little witnesses, lords of the flies. 
The butcher, our father, ran it 
like a lottery, herded a half- 
dozen motley sheep into a pen, 
slipped his curve-blade knife from 
its scabbard, spat on the whetstone, 
honed a glistening edge. 
In one move, he swung the gate, 
flipped the nearest animal 
and dragged it to the board, 
kicking the gate shut after. 
Tipping back the big dumb head 
he slashed the pink of parted wool. 
Blood spat, the four legs ran, 
and the butcher set to work. 
Ropes and pulleys and steel 
hooks were handy in the tree. 
Our father made incisions 
in the beast’s knees, hoisted 
and hooked up the carcass, 
sliced fast down the belly. 
A mass of steaming guts 
fell away, under the fence wire 
into the trickling stream. 
The onlookers — death-row sheep, 
the line of skinny dogs on chains 
and little front-row patrons — 
were frozen, watchful, mute. 
It remained only to peel skin 
from flesh and sinew, to saw 
the still-warm carcass into edible 
portions. Later, while we listened in 
to Randy Stone and the Night Beat
the hawk and the rat, 
the stoat and the ferret 
fought over leftovers and 
drank from the stream. 
I can’t pinpoint quite when 
our butcher-father severed 
head from body. Or what became 
of the four neat hooves. The shearers, 
we’d been told, liked to eat the eyes. 


Carol Cromie is a journalist and book editor, seaside landlady and licensed pawnbroker. She completed the Diploma in Creative Writing earning distinction at NMIT in 2008. ‘Rat Point‘ is one of a series of family poems about isolation submitted as part of her thesis for the MA in Creative Writing at the IIML in 2009. One of the poems, ‘The Swarm‘, won the 2009 Bravado ‘Special Prize for an Unpublished Poet’; another, ‘The Anatomist‘, was highly commended.