Dwayne Padgett had loathed his wife of six years,
thinking the woman of less worth than all
his flock of sheep, sty of pigs, heads of steers,
her voice unwelcome as a raven’s call,
and out of his wife Dwayne took not one joy
as she was too lean and plain in his view,
saying, “God! You might as well be a boy,
you’re so flat! Worse than a new-shaven ewe!”
Yet, his wife, Maud, was of a keen patience
which was as sure as the long Winter’s thaw—
silent and abiding, she was, with sense
enough to read the mood in a man’s jaw.
Sure enough she needed it, crowned often
with fists to the head like knots on an oak,
and so many times it seemed to soften
her tone and tongue whensoever she spoke.
Maud spoke little, but worked hard on the farm,
sunup to sundown, never relenting—
growing leaner, rougher of hand and arm
which she employed in prayer, repenting.
Dwayne snarled, “I’ve had enough of you, old crone!”
his disgust brimming over each nightfall
and he thrashed her worse than all else his own
sleeping placidly in each hay-stuffed stall.
The Appalachian hills and flooding vales
had no fertile soil to bear much harvest,
withered were the vines, and wispy the bales,
that succored Dwayne’s farm, as if from the breast
of Maud herself, drooping dry at the teat,
and barren, too, the womb as clay-cloyed earth
so that each year’s crop seemed only replete
with Famine’s tending of its weed-sewn turf.
“This land is as useless as you!” said Dwayne,
“You bag of skin and bones! You buzzard bird!”
Maud held her tongue, and only cringed in pain
as her husband spat each bilious word,
for her manner was meek, silent, and mild,
brow-beaten now for six years of marriage;
more whipped than a horse many times as wild
and would be thus unto her death carriage.
Dwayne thought of other women, like Rose Hall,
the pretty wife of a wealthy neighbor
who attended the local church, St. Paul,
and whose bust made many men’s breath labored.
“She is as curvy as the hills,” Dwayne said,
heedless of whether his wife heard or not.
“And I’d love to see that body in bed
with those curves all pink and flustered and hot.”
Dwayne shuddered with excitement at the swells
of her breasts and hips neath her modest dress.
“Oh yes, she’s as buxom as a ship’s sails,”
he said, hands moving as if to caress
the figure of the woman he desired
until Mrs Hall and her husband left,
Dwayne watching them leave, his eyes and thoughts mired
in curves and heft and her undisclosed cleft.
He contrasted Rose Hall with his wife, Maud,
reproaching the latter her narrow build,
saying, “I fault it as a slight, by God,
of your slight bones, and, if Heaven so willed
that you be struck dead, by flu or folly,
I’d appraise it a loss less than spoilt souse
and would dump you in the troth, by golly!
Then again, your bones wouldn’t feed a mouse!
Speak, damn you!” he demanded, his big fist
slamming the table so the plates clattered.
“What’s wrong? Tongue-tied? Hogtied? Or are you pissed?
Afraid I’d hit harder if you chattered?”
Timidly, Maud parted her trembling lips
and, just as soon, Dwayne slammed his fist again.
He said, “Your tongue’s as useless as your hips!
What good are you barren women to men?”
Maud wept, then, but also managed to speak,
saying, “I cook and clean for you. I try
to love you.” Her trembling voice became weak
and she continued, “But you hate me. Why?”
Dwayne’s jaw was as stiffened as wet leather,
and he spoke as if the leather might tear.
“I hate you because we are together,
and, by God, if you died I would not care.
Wish I’d never married you for this land
because you’re a dogchain keeping me down.
I want a woman like Rose, and can’t stand
the look of you and your dowdy old frown.”
That night, as with many nights before it,
Maud went to bed weeping while Dwayne stayed up,
sitting on the front porch, cigarette lit,
and drinking bitter beer dregs from his cup.
But unlike other nights, Dwayne felt cinder
in his heart, a hateful spark in his life
and—feeding that fire with ready tinder—
he aspired to kill his woebegone wife.
And so Dwayne ventured at the witching hour
into the bedroom, where Maud was asleep,
and, holding a shovel, his face grave, dour,
prepared a soul for the Reaper to reap.
Yet, Maud never could sleep a restive night
and was still awake as he approached her;
she saw the shovel, his cigarette light,
and surmised his purpose ere he poached her.
She shoved him aside with surprising strength
and fled the house swiftly, through the black elms
of the forest that fringed the farm, at length
coming to a ring of mushrooms, like helms.
No refuge found she, crouching on her knees
and watching for the light of Dwayne’s lantern
as it neared, flinging shadows from the trees,
the wan glow flashing and swaying in turn.
Crouching, Maud hurried away from the light,
and flung herself deeper into the sticks,
cutting her legs, her arms, her head, her gown,
bleeding from her wounds, and pimpled with ticks
till she tripped over roots and tumbled down.
Down and down a hill she rolled, like a bird
hitting a windshield and twirling around,
coming to rest, at last, without a word,
breathless for a long moment on the ground.
Over yonder she saw the light, faded
by both distance and darkness, far afield,
then she rose, slowly, weeping, then waded
through the underbrush where the shadows spilled.
To a clearing she came, far down below
the Appalachian knobs, and the full moon,
limping, sobbing, not knowing where to go,
but knowing she needed to leave, and soon.
And then she was not alone—there stood Dwayne
dim in the moonlight, hunting rifle raised,
taking aim with the same eye whose disdain
found her figure wanting when it appraised.
A single gunshot rang out through the vale
between the hills and woods of God’s country—
no scream, nor moan; just a soft sight to tell
the feelings of one whose woes were sundry.
She fell with as little sound or complaint
as she lived, and Dwayne buried her swiftly,
not offering prayer to Christ or saint
on her behalf, nor headstone, but thriftily
saw the evil done, and soon forgotten
after returning uphill to the farm,
wanting more drink to celebrate his life,
imagining Rose with him, arm in arm
and loin to loin as his consummate wife.
For three days heavy rains poured thereafter
and Dwayne drank himself silly as a clown
in a rodeo, giddy with laughter
as his bull-bashed barrel spins round and round.
Come the fourth day the rains ceased their weeping,
though the skies remained a grim gravestone gray
and mists rose from the hills like ghosts creeping
through air chill and clammy, all night and day.
Hangover to hangover, drinking more
to chase the hair of the dog with moonshine
till he had no alcohol left to pour
to drown out the world—whiskey, beer or wine.
Dwayne was desperate for church, and so went,
not seeking salvation in Sunday’s Mass;
nor seeking his Christ so as to repent,
but Rose Hall and her figure to harass.
A shameful incident followed, of course,
and Dwayne was expelled with a bloody nose,
his brains sloshing in his skull, his remorse
only being pride at the trade of blows.
The pain saw him home, (a bitter consort),
and, having no drink for consolation,
nor wife to cook a meal, nor make such sport,
pitied himself and his lonely station.
All day moping, Dwayne drifted house to barn,
barn to house, cursing the cows, pigs, and sheep
till night fell and, head feeling stuffed with yarn,
he sat down on the porch and fell asleep.
Dwayne woke to strange laughter later that night
and a white glow through the black, mist-veiled trees.
Bleary-eyed, he stood and followed that light,
a sleepwalker through dreamy reveries.
He felt as if floating as he followed
the milky radiance of the forest
and he never thought to question what glowed;
no more than a baby its mother’s breast.
There, in the bosom of those bristly hills,
he found a woman dancing in a ring
of fat mushrooms with white caps and brown frills,
dancing and laughing, singing and squealing.
“By the love of a man whose love is flesh
and by the soul of a man steeped in skin,
make love as a pagan to his fetish
to manifest the sweet children of sin.”
What she sang, Dwayne did not care while entranced
thinking of nought except her swells and squeals
as she danced and jiggled, her curves enhanced
with her fruitful heft as she kicked her heels.
Her wide hips rocked to a fairy’s music,
her breasts bouncing and swinging in rhythm,
and Dwayne salivated at the dew, thick
on her teats, lactating from within them.
His brain’s marbles were as pearls before swine
as he gazed upon that buxom stranger
and heard her squealing laughter, so fine
that he felt no sense of fear or danger.
She had color to her skin: pink and peach,
not brown or leathery, such as had Maud,
and curves aplenty, formed as if to teach
Man the way to lust, as a dowsing rod.
She danced away from him, graceful and coy,
as though to stir his lust to a frothy boil,
and he followed, stumbling like a lost boy,
keeping apace, however slick the soil.
At last she surrendered, lounging anon
in a bed made of Autumn’s soft bounty,
and Dwayne fell on her, rutting thereupon
in a clamor heard county to county.
The two of them were as a two-backed beast,
Dwayne rutting and moaning as if to bust
and she squealing and squirming without cease
beneath Dwayne’s amorous, clamorous lust.
There were folds of pink flesh overflowing
and breasts to each hand, to Dwayne’s mouth, and more
than he could fondle, the hot flesh growing,
her body like teeming tides on his shore—
never ebbing, nor ever abating
as she rallied in ardor and measure
that were as unrestrained as beasts mating,
but twisted by a man’s pain and pleasure.
The dew came, and the chill morn, and Dwayne, too,
waking alone and shivering, stretched on
the matted, wallowing leaf floor, no clue
of his new lover and where she had gone.
Chilled to his bones, Dwayne stumbled along
and headed home as if a long-lost lord,
yet still listening for the squealing song
of the woman with the curves of a gourd.
Coming home, Dwayne found his cattle scattered
and his sheep huddling together in fear,
their eyes wide to the whites, their fleece splattered
with the blood of the dead sheep, laying near.
The dead sheep were gored, eaten, disemboweled,
their entrails strewn in messy disarray;
seeing the dead, Dwayne stomped and raged and howled
to see his flock halved. He shouted, “You’ll pay!”
The barn had been smashed as if by a storm
and was strewn in splintered piles, near a ton.
Dwayne inspected the blood, and found it warm,
so he put on some clothes and fetched his gun,
following the blood trail into the wild,
rage as a crimson mist clouding his gaze,
and the white mists not yet dispersed, nor mild
as his warpath wended through the dawn’s haze.
A familiar route, it was, and yet
he did not realize till it was too late,
coming to a grave he hoped to forget,
ringed round with mushrooms in a figure eight.
A monstrous sow nosed about the fresh grave,
her beady brown eyes looking up at him—
the pig sniffed, snorted and with a smile gave
a squealing laugh that shook Dwayne, limb to limb.
Taken aback by its size, and the blood
that lined the sow’s tusk-jagged mouth, Dwayne gasped,
trying not to look at the charnel mud
and raised his rifle. His shaky voice rasped,
“You damned beast! I’ll learn you good for killing
and eating what’s mine! Gut you, hoof to tail!”
Dwayne aimed his rifle, his heart now thrilling
in thoughts of the pork he could eat and sell.
But before Dwayne could even fire his gun,
the sow rose up on her hind-legs, just-so,
and danced and squealed and leapt into a run
across the vale, as fast as she could go.
By and by, Dwayne overcame his dismay,
but the sow had vanished into the hills,
and so Dwayne walked home, all along his way
mumbling to himself and trembling with chills.
That night Dwayne dreamt of the sow in the vale
and his lover who sang in the forest,
and he saw them in turns, swell unto swell,
and rutted atop them both—both abreast.
Each morning Dwayne would wake in a cold sweat,
knowing he had lain with them once again,
and knowing, also, that there were two, and yet
the same—the same, as they had always been.
Meanwhile the wild hog ate all of his sheep,
one by one till none remained in the pens
and Dwayne feared waking someday from his sleep
to find her eating him up, feet to shins;
nor did she stop with sheep, but ate each beast
belonging to Dwayne’s farm, nor the pigs,
nor the cattle, one by one, a fine feast
as the giant sow crunched their bones like twigs.
Always at night she struck, while Dwayne lay
and dreamt of her touch, her kiss, her embrace,
not waking till the coming of the day,
with a shrill scream, sweat christening his face
as if baptized in such fetid waters
as would roll slow in a putrid river
swarming with Lilith’s vile, temptress daughters—
dazed, Dwayne rose and stumbled, all aquiver
with disgust at himself, and the creature
that caused such hell-loosed chaos in his life,
vowing each morning to be the teacher
and butcher the beast with gun, saw, and knife.
But for all his cursing and swearing such,
Dwayne never could glimpse that large porcine head,
nor could he wake from the amorous touch
of his lover in his widower’s bed.
All that remained was the late morning mess
both in the barnyard and in his britches,
and soon he prayed much more, and swore much less,
thinking it the work of hell-bound witches.
Despairing of earthly means, Dwayne applied
to the priest, pleading that he must invoke
the angels of Heaven to take his side,
but the priest frowned, crossed himself, and thus spoke:
“What sins you sow, you reap, and reap you will.”
Dwayne tried to beg, but the priest grimly said,
“Where is your wife, Dwayne? Is she well…or ill?”
He scowled at Dwayne’s silence and shook his head.
“What sins you sow, you reap,” he repeated,
“And pay sevenfold for wickedness done.
Whatever this beast eats has been meted
by God himself, the Father and the Son.”
“By all that is holy!” Dwayne wept. “Help me!
You gotta’ come and expel that demon!”
But Dwayne was, himself, expelled, and swiftly
after confessing guilt of his semen.
“You made congress with a beast?!” the priest roared.
“You are damned! Damned! Leave! Now! Get out of here!”
Dwayne cursed the Catholic priest, and his Lord,
and hastened home, hankering for a beer.
No beer. No whiskey. No moonshine or gin.
No friends. No allies. No solace. Nor god
to save him from his choices, from his sin,
nor drink to carry him away to Nod.
“All I wanted were some curves!” he bellowed,
kicking over the dresser where Maud’s gowns
hung thin, tenuous, once white, now yellowed
by dust and tears and years and silent frowns.
To see those gowns, in all their stains and frays,
was to see Maud dead in her shallow grave,
her nightgown bloody, her bones thin, her gaze
vacant and dark as a Stygian cave.
Enraged, Dwayne tore the gowns, screaming, “You witch!
Leave me be! You and your bones are buried!”
He tore her dresses apart, cloth from stitch,
including the dress worn when they married.
This latter dress he tore with great relish,
like a sharp-clawed cat on a pillow pile,
although, at length, even this seemed hellish
to do after he went on for a while.
“I can’t abide it no more!” Dwayne declared.
“I’m taking my last stand, once and for all!”
He fetched his rifle and, as his rage flared,
he stomped out toward Maud’s grave without stall.
Through veils of mist that curtained wayward woods
like the funeral shrouds of those bereft
and misty-eyed beneath their tattered hoods,
phantoms watched from beyond the weave and weft.
If Dwayne sensed them while in his reckless ire,
he did not care, but marched on in a craze,
his mind wild with violence and the fire
of his rage—all else was lost in the haze.
Dwayne was not quiet as he stomped about,
and the porcine beast knew of his approach,
the bulky behemoth barreling out,
large and fast as a thunderous stagecoach.
Dwayne fired his rifle with a frantic aim
and caught a long tusk along his torso;
man and beast tumbled together, each maimed;
man wounded much, but beast much, too—more so.
Yet, the sow rose first, and then limped away
as her bristly neck bled from a deep hole;
Dwayne roused to pain, at length, but did not lay,
but hobbled on, enraged, his entire soul
fixated as upon cross-hairs, his eye
rolling upon the blood the boar had bled,
which, beholding, did also testify
that the devilry could—would— soon be dead.
Through his ragged breaths, he laughed and rejoiced,
saying, “I will eat you whole, hoof to nose,
heart and soul.” He laughed again, scarecrow-voiced
and limped forth to see this curse to its close.
Down the hills and through the woods he wended,
coming at length to the field where Maud lay
and where the sow lay, belly distended
with the animals she had made her prey.
The beast snorted softly, vastly content,
sleeping as her wounded ribs rose and fell;
Dwayne did not wait, but raised his gun and spent
a bullet from its smoking, hollow shell.
Yet, after the smoke had lifted Dwayne saw
a sight that chilled him to his deep marrow,
a sight against Nature’s most basic Law—
blasphemous offspring; a man-faced farrow
suckling at their mother’s milk-swollen teats,
undisturbed by the stark, sudden stillness
of their mother, or the loud heartbeats
of Dwayne Padgett in the throes of illness.
The sow now dead, and the piglets blind,
Dwayne staggered away, thinking himself free
from his sins and his past, all left behind
in the gore of that flesh-borne heresy.
He limped on a while, bleeding from his gut
where the sow had kissed him with vengeful tusk,
but soon he wearied, weakened by the cut
and crumbled down like a lax scarecrow’s husk.
He slept for a time, then woke to the sound
of babies cooing and giggling at rest,
seeing the piglets gathered all around,
nestling his wound for succor, as a breast.
Too weak to scream, Dwayne moaned a short prayer
for mercy from the beasts at his bowels,
but no mercy came, and long was it ere
the snouts stopped digging like trenchant trowels.
At last fed to surfeit, they wandered off
to grow and breed among those bristly hills,
and though some Appalachians may yet scoff
at the strange notion, others know the chills
of a breaking branch or the odd footfall
while walking Kentucky’s wilderness trails—
to hear the squeal, or laugh, or caterwaul
of Dwayne Padgett’s kin in the knobs and vales.