Becoming a Man
It was New Year’s and I’d already spent a few days
out in the country with my grandparents
feeding corn to the chickens at dawn
and a pail full of mushy leftovers to the pig at dusk
which by then weighed almost three-hundred pounds
and grunted even in its sleep, it was so hard for it to breathe.
I was standing like a soldier at the back of the yard,
past the flowerless flamboyan tree, watching Grandpa with a mixture
of bewilderment and intrigue as he buried his knees in the mire,
tying the pig by its legs with homemade rope.
Once done, the old man stood, mud dripping from his tattered pants,
and gestured with his hand, telling me to join him.
My rubber boots squished as I entered the sty. Grandpa reached
for his hip and removed from his leather sheath
the knife he always carried, whose blade was the size of my forearm.
He gave me the knife and told me to kneel by the pig.
My small fingers wrapped around the wooden handle.
Grandpa lowered his body behind mine
and overtook my hand with his. I could smell the sweat
falling from his chin, hear his labored breathing.
He positioned the tip of the blade right under the pig’s left-front leg,
the animal protesting with shrieking noises. I closed my eyes
and the old man said, On the count of three, straight to the heart.
As he began counting I was shaken by my own sobbing.
Grandpa released his grip, patted me on the shoulder.
Do not worry, he said, you’ll be able to do it when you are a man.
With his permission, I ran back in the house.
Now, years later, I am awakened at night by the sound
of various animals running and scavenging inside my apartment.
They come in through the tuft of soil I’ve planted by the bed as a lure.
I tell my wife everything’s okay as I jump
and snatch the knife I keep hidden under my pillow.
In ecstatic frenzy, I chase behind the four-legged beasts,
naked and strong, singing mystic songs I learned in my dreams,
knowing, with a kind of primal confidence, that I am a man.