The sow watches the farmer apply grease to her son,
a young boar with a wound long and thin where he rubbed himself
clean of bristles and skin. This itch belongs to more than just disease
and parasites. She recognizes the anxiety foaming on his chin,
knows that his panic has been growing since the males were confined
to a pen and shuttered away from the sows in the field.
Only half-grown, and he carries his weight like a truncheon.
His short tusks bruise the farmer’s hand when he bucks in protest.
For days he’s rubbed his back along the splintered rail, cutting a slender flap
in his hide—an open envelope that invites infection. Though half-blind,
his mother sees the fear leaping from him like flecks of foam:
it is more than a squeal ringing in her ears; it is a throbbing in her intestine,
a pulse that makes her run back and forth, wailing. She calls
from the other side of the fence, even though he was weaned weeks ago,
and she let the boy wander from her side, as if she no longer needed him.
Sarah Kain Gutowski has had poems appear in Epiphany, So to Speak: A Feminist Literary Journal, and the Threepenny Review. She is an assistant professor of English at Suffolk County Community College, where she teaches writing and literature.
“What Our Mothers Know as Love” appears in our Summer 2012 issue.