The Auctioneer Bangs his Gravel
Three quarter quarter quarter do I have half?
The boy steps aside, and this one, a barrel,
pinkish in the hindquarters and brown
in the fore, trots out in front of the auctioneer
who says a few words—perfunctory, he speaks
much too fast to be understood—before soliciting
bids. The pig meanwhile struts its hour,
walking back and forth below the podium
from which all that sound about it blares.
Struts? No, the pig doesn’t strut; the pig in fact
with its curly tail and flat-topped snout
is oblivious to all but the boy, following him
as he circles, waving his yellow pennant
first this way then that in the small pen.
Picture this: a tent, two hundred spectators
on three sides, auctioneer on a dais, his voice
tripping along between speech and song—
and in the dirt pen in front of that dais: pig.
Yes, there are helpers, too: there is the boy
who shepherds the pig; there is a man
in a cowboy hat who points and gestures
at people in the audience, confirming bids—
three seventy-five four four do we have four?
but finally focus is on the pig and its prospects.
From the sidelines where we stand, I suggest
we root for the pig; but you tell me that the pig,
its future in show, breeding, or pork—
most likely a combination—needs no help
in rooting. I turn back to the pen, unconvinced
because the odds seem stacked against it:
the reason? Auctioneer, voice tripping
like water down a rock face. The auctioneer
with his hands raised now, conducting the event
like a symphony. He culminates the audience
to his bidding, pulls the shepherding boy
with his left hand, nods and throws meaningful
glances at the man in the cowboy hat—
maestro conducting with a curly wand.
The auctioneer is the Father, looking coldly
down on the auction of the world that He
creates with an extra-natural fluidity of speech,
incarnates with each trilling syllable
around the sole subject: pig, shepherded back
and forth before spectators it doesn’t understand—
does it? Now the shepherding boy and the man
appear as angels, their expressionless faces
enacting bliss. What does that make
the cackling spectators? I become convinced
as we watch—though you are silent, though you
are clearly interested in moving on, in seeing
other things—that with its pink half
and brown half, its cloven hooves, that barely
known to this pig, the auction is an
adversarial relationship. And if so, what hope
for the pig? The auctioneer bangs
his gavel: sold sold for three seventy-five to.
From the bench, he sentences pig to the gallows;
the bailiff shepherds it off. Is it mercy,
this pig’s ignorance? All the machinery
operating around it, who’s to say
the auctioneer isn’t a scientist, and the pig
moving back and forth on a glass slide, beneath
an eye larger than the sun? I understand you want
to see cows, sheep, the rows of rabbit cages,
but there will be nothing that we see here
all day, that will be truer than this—
and look, another pig! The auctioneer up there
gets ready to say grace as this pig hustles
onto his dinner plate. This one with red spots,
and now the auctioneer’s at it again. . . .