Robert Gray - Meatworks #
As the title suggests, this poem raises a number of issues dealing with food and work.
Most of us view our food from the safe perspective of a supermarket where meat has been cleanly sliced, hermetically sealed in pre - packaging and tantalisingly displayed. We seldom reflect on how it got there. We live sheltered lives.
Recently some Western countries have been horrified by brutal visual images of Asian abattoirs killing our animals due the live animal trade, yet we fail to reflect on our own methods – all food has to die for us to enjoy and to live.
This is a very personal poem about the persona and his co-workers working in gruesome and bloody conditions. The acute poetic perceptions implicitly depict scenes framed with transparent bias through negative and pejorative language;
heavily, and the hot, fertilizer-thick,
sticky stench of blood
sent flies mad”
Other negative connotations include; bellowing, sloppy yards, pig’s fear, greasy stick, bags of blood, snail sheened flesh…
Pejorative verbs reinforce the negativity – the revulsion; “settled for, mount, snatching steaks, grinding, chomping, grabbed, gnawed it hysterically, lug gutted pigs, clinging….
Sexual imagery abounds with;
“the pig’s fear
made them mount one another
at the last minute”
A desperate coupling in a vain attempt to dodge their fate.
The metal box conjures images of sexual congress with:
“a spout, snatching …pushing them through arm-thick corkscrews…grinding, chomping…using a greasy stick shaped into a penis”.
These analogies span the duality of the sexual act; the life - affirming clinging onto each other” due to insecurity and the life-denying brute frenzy of assault.
The first half of the poem dwells on the repugnance of hard reality but then abruptly shifts to restorative nature’s beauty;
the white- bruising beach and startling storm cloud mountains high…
The end of the day brings relief, with the washing his hands “
on the blue metal…I’d scoop up shell-grit and scrub my hands”.
Like Lady MacBeth, does he try to purge his guilt by washing his hands in the ocean?
His wife is framed in a positive relaxed light of:
“My wife carried her sandals to meet me” (meat/meet?)
The implication is one of life-affirming connection, companionship and restoration.
Now begins the discussion of why we work;
“for this frail green money”.
Work can alienate us from life and can be soul destroying. Unfulfilling workplaces can be degrade and demean people. Unless flexible family friendly conditions prevail, work can become hell.
Socrates remarked that “workers make bad friends and bad citizens”. Oscar Wilde claimed that ”work was the curse of the drinking class”. However, the Protestant Work Ethic is based on the presumption *“that work has a moral benefit and an inherent ability to strengthen character.” Business Dictionary.
Socrates lived in classical Greece where free men had time to dine and discuss philosophy because slaves did all the work. Wilde lived in England where the privileged upper classes felt it beneath their dignity to work. In the western world we tend to define and value people on what they do for a living. The very rich like Rupert Murdoch, Gina Reinhart and Malcolm Turnbull do not have to work but feel compelled to fulfil their lives, prove their worth or maintain their status.
Many rich people from South Africa and Asia have to make serious adjustments to their domestic and social lives when they could no longer afford to have servants in the Western world. Some have commented on how ennobling it is.
In rich countries, we work to consume. It appears we are working harder and for longer hours, - for what? Our Capitalist economies are predicated on the need for people to consume goods to keep money circulating to provide work for others. It becomes a 67 hour a week treadmill – a rat race that only a rat can win. The hunter-gatherer economy functioned on a 15 hour working week.*
Consumption consists of people spending money they don’t have, to buy goods they don’t need, to impress people they don’t like.