Poetry by Euan Dawtrey
Analysed by Suzie Beckley
I hadn’t seen a thicker mist.
Mist clung to the rims of our farmhouse
Threatening a cliff edge or boundless, unbroken land,
Or a stream, or a hill. I straddled
The gate looking out into the haze imagining
Shapes and movement in the static grey.
All I saw was nothings, shades of muffled brightness,
Incubated in a void of silence.
Behind me my father took his knife
From his coal bucket
I turned to witness
It letting off steam in the bitterness.
The cow breathed steam, the knife
Looked at the cow and breathed too.
She rose and fell, a thick vaporous haze
Warming the space around her nostrils.
As soon as the blade drunk the morning air
It’s breath trailed off in a dissipating
Plume. It’s body became cold and sharp.
Like the thin wind on my cheek.
Like the feeling of bare feet.
As the knife was under the cow,
Slicing through soft underbelly with mysterious truth,
Opening the sticky entrails onto the frost tipped grass
Lying purple and breathing steam gory and smelling of
Acid and metal; the knife had definitely stopped breathing.
She stood upright for a few seconds
As she poured out of herself, her head still
Surrounded by the in and out of breath,
Until her eyes rolled and her knees buckled
Collapsing her frame into the blood mud frost.
I looked at the unmoving mass of flesh and bone,
That once was fire and water.
My father took the knife to the sink
Wetting the blade with water and cloth
Before placing it back into the coal.
Blood trails ran from his palm
Down his forearms sticking to his hair
His palms looked like they did when
He collected coal for fire, blood looked like soot,
He washed them the same,
In silence, methodical
Carefully joining his hands together
Under the steady flow of steaming water.
Exploring themes of life, death and human nature, ‘Monument’ is a sensory observation of birth and death at its most elemental. Through the eyes of a child, or young man – details of the speaker left untold and therefore ambiguous – we see the cycle of life and death taking place before our very eyes, surrounded by a mist which envelopes the characters and the actions taking place.
The mist, with an ability to threaten, cling, and incubate, acts as a parent and eye. It plunges us into the desolate landscape, distorting and shaping what the speaker is seeing, and what we are reading. It is Mother Nature, resting upon the landscape and watching over the cycles of life and habit that she has created.
As a reader and observer, what is taking place may seem shocking and visceral, but for the speaker’s father, it is a habitual or “methodical” part of his occupation and life. This is perhaps not the first time he has committed this act, and it probably isn’t the last. There is a melancholic repetition to the washing of the knife, and the blood streaming from his skin. This is a religious act, a sacrifice. Blood running into water, and water running into steam. The heat, the pure life, which runs from the tip of the knife, from the body of the cow, into the steaming water washing away the evidence, and eventually escaping the written word. He is a giver and taker of life.
This is human interference in an animal’s life cycle. It is not portrayed as an act of choice however, but explored as another feature of the misted landscape, an element amongst elements.
‘Monument’ is life and death, the cycles that define us, defining binaries that are beyond human control, and lie in the hands of the mist, in the palm of Mother Nature.