Piling Blood

It was powdered blood

in heavy brown paper bags

supposed to be strong enough

to prevent the stuff from escaping

but didn’t

 

We piled it ten feet high

right to the shed roof

working at Arrow Transfer

on Granville Island

The bags weighed 75 pounds

and you had to stand on two

of the bags to pile the top rows

I was six feet three inches

and needed all of it

 

I forgot to say

the blood was cattle blood

horses sheep and cows

to be used for fertilizer

the foreman said

 

lt was a matter of some delicacy

to plop the bags down softly

as if you were piling dynamite

if you weren’t gentle

the stuff would belly out

from bags in brown clouds

settle on your sweating face

cover hands and arms

enter ears and nose

seep inside pants and shirt

reverting back to liquid blood

and you looked like

you’d been scalped

by a tribe of

particularly unfriendly

Indians and forgot to die

 

We piled glass as well

it came in wooden crates

two of us hoicking them

off trucks into warehouses

every crate

weighing 200 pounds

By late afternoon

my muscles would twitch and throb

in a death-like rhythm

from hundreds of bags of blood

and hundreds of crates of glass

 

Then at Burns’ slaughterhouse

on East Hastings Street

I got a job part time

shouldering sides of frozen beef

hoisting it from steel hooks

staggering to and from

the refrigerated trucks

and eerie freezing rooms

with breath a white vapour

among the dangling corpses

and the sound of bawling animals

screeched down from an upper floor

with their throats cut

and blood gurgling into special drains

for later retrieval

 

And the blood smell clung to me

clung to clothes and body

sickly and sweet

and I heard the screams

of dying cattle

and I wrote no poems

there were no poems

to exclude the screams

which boarded the streetcar

and travelled with me

till I reached home

turned on the record player

and faintly

in the last century

heard Beethoven weeping

Al Purdy, “Cariboo Blood” from Beyond Remembering: The Colleted Poems of Al Purdy (Harbour Publishing, 2000). Copyright © 2000 by Harbour Publishing. Reprinted by permission of Harbour Publishing.