the museum of americana

a literary review

Cattle Trucks — Poetry by Eileen Toomey

I smell the truck
on highway 35
here in New Jersey
before I see it in the right lane.
Memories of being six or eight
and sitting in the back seat
of my mother’s car
spread like a blood stain
on the killing floor.

There were cattle trucks everywhere
feeding the meat packing plants
bordering Canaryville on the Bridgeport side.
They rattled down Halsted,
down 43rd,
sometimes even past
the Baby Park on Union Ave.
If you were stuck behind one
in the backseat of your mother’s car,
you closed your heart
as you listened to the bleating lambs,
the moo-moan of the cows,
a chug rumble of filthy gas.
Even when the car windows were closed
        you smelled barnyard
above all the other city smells.

And you were sad
looking in those miserly holes
at the bead of those animal eyes
in the black truck shadows
as they are shipped
              slotted in pens
to Moo and Oink,
L & L Bros, and Chiappetti Lamb
        for the slaughter:
              the burgers,
              the bacon,
              the chops.

In the back seat
behind your mother
you know you are in the presence of tragedy,
the industry of it,
but you are the top of the food chain.

        You got to eat,
she says smoking

cracking the triangle window
always smoking
smoking so much it will kill her.

        You’re going to die of something,
              at least you’re not going to be a steak.

I wonder what vehicle
will bring me to my rock bottom altar.
I know I am too young
to think about dying,
but when I see those trucks

              I do.
 
~  ~  ~
 Eileen Toomey Eileen Toomey went to Columbia College, Chicago and studied the Story Workshop Method of Writing. She received her BA in English Literature from the University of Baltimore. This is her first publication.