All posts by Benjamin

Co-founder of gutwrench.

Hope Sustains the Farmer

By Christina Schmitt

Spes Alit Agricolam

The grave was five feet deep.
I know this because he asked me to stand in it.
I am 5’7.
The sun was hot, as every May day, and the tall grasses rolled in the quick breeze.
There were the right amount of clouds for cloud watching.
I noticed this when I glanced at the sky as I was standing in the hole to be turned grave and wondered if death was ever an act of mercy.
He put the bullet in his shotgun, explaining the best way to shoot her.
It’s to draw an imaginary X between the eyes and the nose and hit the cross at an angle.
He said he saw it once in the farmer’s catalog he gets every other week.
His hands trembled.
It was Friday.

On Monday we slaughtered three piglets for a pig roast wedding.

(After he shot the piglets,
We slashed the skin above their hooves
Hung them by a forklift
Bathed them in boiling water
To burn off hair.
Delicately,
With a sharpened pocket knife,
We slit their stomachs to remove their inner organs.
It is fragile work,
As you want to avoid puncturing intestines.)

She hadn’t moved from under the only tree in the pasture except wringing with the shade as the sun changed positions. She was a calf, a little over a week old. She was born hairless, which didn’t seem like a big deal when I watched her legs straighten and buckle underneath her last week.
Because new life is always beautiful, even if it is ugly.
I got in to the habit of naming the newborns, and he warned me harshly that I best not assign her a name because it’s best if she doesn’t make it.

The difference between the piglets and the calf is
The desire to kill without a need and the need to kill without the desire, and
Isn’t this a serious human problem?

Her skin was hammered by the sun, and cracked so deeply that flies feasted. She didn’t have eyelids and usually they rolled back so that I only saw the whites of them. Without the hooves, a wanderer never would have identified this miserable creature as an oversized rodent, not a newborn calf.
I checked on her every morning in the pasture that week, praying to God for mercy. If she had the energy to banter with God, I’d assume it would’ve resembled Job’s dialogue; only, God could not banter back. How could you justify misery with a child?
The 3 p.m. bell rang to signify a time of prayer on the farm.
“How appropriate,” he mused, tipped his hat. As he sauntered towards her lifeless body, she stood. Well, she tried. Every movement she made caused her skin to crack more and blood oozed out enough for small droplets to fall in the matted grass that she refused to die in.
She stumbled around for a moment, getting closer to the hole on the other side of the tree.
She stood, facing the mound of dug up dirt, forcing him to stand over it with one foot on each side. She stared at him, whites in her eyes stark against her blood red skin.
She was ready.
“Return to your Soil and Creator,” I heard him mutter as he lifted the shotgun.
She fell, not even a foot from the grave. He reloaded once more, to be sure, and fired again.
Then, he walked away.
It helped me to know that he hurt because of this. Not that I blame him, but because I know that taking lives lie in his authority and that type of power should be humbled.
He returned, where my feet hadn’t moved, and made a motion of lifting her in the grave.

She didn’t look natural, with her legs folded over her and head cocked too far left.
He said it doesn’t matter,
but it did matter.
I regret not saying that.
He regrets waiting so long.
He asked if that was hard. I asked if death was ever easy. I was the first one to see her, last week.
He offered me the bullet casing. I said no.
Some things don’t need a totem to recall their principles.

Spes Alit Agricolam

(Hope Sustains the Farmer)

Sweet Fruit

By Alec Prevett

there were no clouds in the day
all across was a sugary electroshock blue
taffy
         stretched and squashed by a universal pull.

the trees behind the fence
mocked me with their absurd height, extending
their limbs and tasting
that sticky sky—
munching on it as giraffes do
         on leaves.

the naked fruitboys nestled in the boughs
fed on it, too, reaching
from the branches to steal blue in their hands.
they hung there, far above me, laughing
         as i drooled, hungry.

Pondering Watercolors for Later’s Painting

By Alec Prevett

Wheat:
Eyelids in their stillness clutching
     muddy irises like gemstones.
Vermillion:
The sun, its own eye not yet wide, peeking
     through the curtains to gently rouse us.
Pitch:
Your hair tousled and shooting
     in directions that will embarrass you.
Azure:
Flannel sheets in disarray swaddling
     us like children tired and pure.
Café Au Lait:
Those freckles large and small unwavering
     on those talcum seas, your skin.
Puce:
Shaded lips, smeared and parting
     against my shoulder, as if to whisper no,
     morning is not yet.

Long Dollar

By Jon Goode

Mr. Jones in his Sunday’s best pacing;
Mrs. Jones in her Sunday dress waiting impatient
For the ushers to begin
To usher in the church congregation
To hear about God’s salvation
And Satan’s temptation.
The flock heavy with sin
The church a weigh station
While pastor lay in wait to waylay em,
Lift lions and slay lambs at the gate
Testify, pacify and pass the plate
(Pass the plate).
And the Choir sang their songs
The congregation sang along
Waving their hands
And their Martin Luther King fans
But they weren’t fans of Martin Luther
Or Christ the martyr
They worshipped at the altar of the Long Dollar
(Of the Long Dollar)
(Of the Long Dollar).

And there I am eighteen years old
Running in late dressed in street clothes;
And when my feet hit the church doors
In jeans and shelltoes
It seemed hell froze.
I was greeted with heaven help’s
And hell no’s
I suppose those folks in salvation’s army
Fo sho don’t shop at the Salvation Army.
They all smelled like obsession.
I pray the scent of salvation’s on me.
And the Choir sang their song
The congregation sang along
Waving their hands
And their Martin Luther King fans
But they weren’t fans of Martin Luther
Or Christ the martyr
They worshipped at the altar of the Long Dollar
(Of the Long Dollar)
(Of the Long Dollar).
The preacher screamed “No weapon formed can harm me!”
Which seemed right he had a right tight army.
In fact I bet not a single congregant had even touched the hem of his garment yet.
So I sat in the front row right next to Ms. So & So
She wore her skirt real high and her hat real low.
You know, that it was known to everyone
That after the pastor would make her speak in tongues.
No one was sure if he was reaching them
But the shepherd sheared the sheep
He was surely fleecing them.
He was preaching and teaching to the young
Tell them who they are and who they should become;
And behind doors he was touching them
Right under parent’s nose he was touching them
Soon it was exposed that he was touching them
(He was touching them)
(He was touching).
And the Choir sang their songs
The congregation sang along
Waving their hands
And their Martin Luther King fans
But they weren’t fans of Martin Luther
Or Christ the martyr
They worshipped at the altar of the Long Dollar
(Of the Long Dollar)
(Of the Long Dollar).

hang out with me

By Maddie Fay

“hang out with me.”
a text i send a lot,
a little demanding,
but always sincere.
it means
“i like your company”
or “i miss the way
your nose crinkles when you laugh,”
or “there’s this new thing
i want to try,
and i want to try it with you.”

my heart stretches years
and states and oceans,
and i try to keep the people i love
as close as i can.
because their brains are magic,
because i like their insight,
because so many of us are
lost boys whose only real family
is each other.
because waking up
to another friend’s picture
on a facebook memorial post
becomes an avalanche of every
phone call i should have made.

“hang out with me”
always means “i want to see you,”
but sometimes it also means
“i don’t like the way
your new boyfriend talks to you”
or “none of us have seen you
around lately”
or “you’ve stopped eating again,
and what kind of friend would i be
if i just pretended not to notice?”

and we don’t have to talk
about anything you don’t want to,
just get in my car,
i’ll pack us both lunches,
and we can drive to the mountains.
i’ll remind you of the reasons
you are good,
the ways you have touched my life,
and why i’m glad to have you in it.
we’ll make really exciting plans
so tomorrow can stop
looking at you and licking its teeth.

i won’t pretend my love
can save you,
but some things
you can’t do on your own,
and i will help you find help.
some days you are
the brightest thing about this world
and it would never be the same
for losing you so soon.
if everyone who hurts like you
dies from it,
there will be no one left
standing at the other side,
reaching out an arm
for those who come next,
and the world will be left
to the people who inherited bridges.

i like your company,
and i would miss the way
your nose crinkles when you laugh,
and there are still so many
new things you have not yet tried.
so come over,
or call me; i’ll come get you.
you can play with my dogs,
we can count the stars.
i can lock up my knives,
you can sleep in my room,
just hang out with me
a little bit longer.

crazy bitches

By Maddie Fay

“you gotta watch out
for those crazy bitches,
man,”
says the drunk man at the bar.
he says this to me
conspiratorially,
like i, a bulldyke,
am far enough removed
from his idea of “woman”
that he can talk to me this way
and i will understand.
i have sex with women,
after all,
so how could i possibly
view them as people?
surely, i know
what he’s talking about.
and i do know
exactly what he’s talking about.

“crazy bitch,”
noun.
defined as,
1) any woman whose emotions
are inconvenient to you;
2) any woman who accuses you
or any of your friends
of predatory behavior.

a crazy bitch will get angry
just because you
forgot her birthday
or fucked her friend.
a crazy bitch will call you
an asshole
or a player.

“crazy bitches,”
he tells me,
“are always ruining things
for nice guys.”

and i know a lot of nice guys,
the kinds i go camping with,
the kind who’ll go to lunch
with your rapist,
but never one-on-one,
they just have a lot of
mutual friends,
and nice guys don’t like
to make a scene.

a crazy bitch
won’t make things comfortable
for nice guys,
a crazy bitch
will call it rape
just because she was asleep
and you didn’t ask permission.

“crazy bitches,”
he says,
“will accuse you of anything.”

and i have never been
a perfect lover,
often not even a good one.
i have forgotten a lot of birthdays
and fucked a lot of friends.
i have been called an asshole
and a player.
i have had sex with a lot of women,
but i have never been called
a rapist.
because i don’t believe in
grey areas,
because i make sure that
everyone i touch
wants to be touched by me
every time.
i have been accused
of a lot of things,
but never once of rape.
you say crazy bitches
are always accusing “nice guys”
of rape,
and i think you are saying
“nice guys”
when you mean to say “rapists.”

a crazy bitch will hold
a knife to your throat
just because
you put a gun in her mouth
and told her you’d shoot
if she screamed,
a crazy bitch will have the audacity
to rip her survival from your hands.
she is not full of soft things
the way you expected a woman
to be,
you can’t tell crazy bitches
what to do.

you are afraid of her words,
but she is afraid of your hands,
and your wanting,
the way that wanting,
for you,
is only a step
on the ladder to taking
instead of the start of a
conversation.

so when he says,
“you’ve got to watch out
for those crazy bitches,”
i say,
“yes.
us crazy bitches
have got to watch out
for each other,
because no one else
is fucking going to.”

The Temp

By Jack Walsh

The nervous one called Aaron couldn’t dance for shit. It was like watching a giraffe with a broken knee and an inflamed nutsack trying to do burpees. Not that the calf had ever seen that before. Or that burpees had even been developed as an exercise yet. One day, men who would come into work from the gymnasium and bend their knees and say to coworkers, “Oof. Leg day,” would also mention burpees a lot. Somehow, the calf just knew this. Knew it all. How the sunrise looked from the top of any and every mountain. Knew the truth about Stonehenge. Knew the decimal places of Pi. All of them. He knew everything all at once.

Which made pinning things down to a specific time kind of tricky. Just a little earlier (Was it today? Yesterday? A thousand years ago?) the calf had known nothing. To say he existed in a void implies awareness of it. He wasn’t aware. He wasn’t anything. But then, just like that, here he was. Golden. Gleaming in the firelight. The people cavorting around him. Naked. Chanting. Dancing. Worshipping. He wished he could offer an appreciative moo. The people seemed to maybe expect it.

The calf breathed in deeply. Smoky. Some sort of seasoning. Was that sage? He thought about it for a second. It was sage. It smelled delicious. Not that he could eat it. He couldn’t open his mouth. Didn’t even have a stomach, let alone the four of most cows. But somehow he was sated. Slaughtering a bull. Presenting burnt offerings. This pleased him. The smoke. The beef. And, sure, that part did seem a little contradictory and wrong, given his bovine form. But, what were wrong and right to the divine? Heh. Divine. Bovine. He suppressed a chuckle. He hoped Aaron had shaped his face to look stern. Amusement wouldn’t really inspire awe or reverence in his people.

“Up,” they had said to Aaron. “Make us gods, which shall go before us.”

Aaron had sighed. His brother had a mountain god, a god of plenty and protection and nature-warping miracles. But also of fire, and locusts, and vengeance. On balance, Moses’ god didn’t seem like one you would want to forsake. But, faith and reason and loyalty and patience weren’t an easy mix for the people. They’d said, “As for this Moses, the man who brought us up out of the land of Egypt, we know not what is become of him.”

Aaron’s brother had led the people through seas, deserts and mountains. He’d faced down the Pharaoh. The whole kingdom, really. He’d stood stoic in the face of plague. Of blood-soaked horror. But, Aaron’s backbone was not as stiff.

“Break off the golden earrings, which are in the ears of your wives, of your sons, and of your daughters,” he’d said, improvising as he went. “Bring them unto me.” The calf knew Aaron had felt uneasy about the whole thing. The melting of the gold. The shaping of his body. The making of a god. But then the wine started to flow. Given how Aaron was dancing now, he had gotten over it, at least for the rest of the night.

The drippings from the meat sizzled on the fire and gave off a savory smell. Umami? Was that what you called umami? The calf knew that one day, insufferable know-it-all foodies would use this to describe some flavor, but he couldn’t figure out what they would mean by it. Umami. He said it to himself again. It sounded funny. Heh. Ooo-mah-mi.

The calf took another deep breath. Not so much for the smell this time, but as a savoring of the moment. Just look at them all. They were ecstatic. Blissful.

They couldn’t know that a little later, Aaron’s brother would come down off the mountain and see all this and throw a shit-fit. He would scream and smash stone.

And the calf knew what would come next. Moses would pull him down. Grind him to dust. Mix the dust with water and make the people drink it. Godhood reduced to Ovaltine. Not as any sort of drink-your-vitamins-and-minerals gesture, but as penance. And even then, Moses would still have a few thousand of them killed. His god would demand it.

It would happen. Tonight? Years later? Sometime. But, for now, the calf just wanted to watch the moron dance some more.