Poems by Chloe Hanson
By Chloe Hanson
Would you be afraid to marry a man
with taxidermied heads mounted
on his walls? Mountain goat. Big-
horned sheep. Elk. A bear, perhaps,
or some other predator, mouth agape,
sharp incisors dipped in resin? Would you
be afraid of his collection, disembodied
faces meaning there were once bodies,
the eyes replaced with glass, blood
with sawdust and rags, dermoplasty,
misshapen? He always leaves behind
a few bones. Would you be afraid
of the implied gunshot, the set
of knives for skinning and snipping,
his easy way of crafting normalcy,
faking life? Could you sleep
in a room while each face looked
not at you, but over you — Gods
who see all and choose to turn away?
“Billy Beg and His Bull”
By Chloe Hanson
There once was a Queen who loved a bull
as she loved her son, raised both at her breast.
As her son grew, the bull taught him to love
as fully as their mother. But the Queen fell
ill, her rose-petal face shriveled as a flower in autumn.
She made her husband promise never to part her children:
bull and boy. The king, who could not imagine
what was to come, agreed.
As is the way of Kings, he remarried one of his wife’s maids,
lovely and dim as a faint star. More than anything, the new Queen
despised the bull — his eyes round and white as two peeled eggs,
the smell of young boy. She begged her husband to slaughter
the beast, but found the King’s loyalty to his first Queen
a deeply planted, if dormant, seed.
The Queen still had many friends from her days of servitude, none
so dear as the Hen Wife, a stout woman in a blood-spattered apron,
grim expression, round face. Tell the King you are not well.
The Hen Wife, plucked the puckered corpse
of a chicken, divided the flesh in two.
I will make sure he does the deed.
The Queen painted herself as a death mask: dun pallor, sunken eyes.
The Hen Wife told the king the only cure was a bowl of blood
from the bull. The King’s hands shook, eyes watered. For days
he prayed for his wife’s recovery. But he stopped short
of taking a blade to the bull’s throat.
Color bled through the Queen’s powdered cheeks.
Husband, she said, at your table, do you not eat
all sorts of red meats? This bull is their brother.
The King, sufficiently shamed, prayed
when he met his first Queen in Heaven,
she would forgive him.
Do not think I’ve forgotten the boy and his bull, who heard
the whispers from the kitchen, prepared to run,
live their lives in the forest, eat all the green things of the earth,
to never again witness the hell of slaughter. As is so often the case
with best-laid plans, things went astray. The bull was captured, crated
with the rest of the living feed.
If your mother, like mine, read you this story
you might remember boy and bull escaping the palace.
You might remember an honorable death for the bull,
who protected his brother, the boy, with his final breath.
You might remember the boy wed a princess,
and their table was forever filled with green and blooming things.
But if like me, you always felt connected to the gory original stories:
Cinderella’s stepsisters and their missing toes,
wicked Queens dancing in red-hot shoes til their bones glittered
against the iron, then you know the bull was served smothered
in rich blood gravy, the Queen miraculously recovered,
and within the year her stomach and breasts began to swell.
By Chloe Hanson
I follow rescue pets on Instagram. I think of how many I could fit
between my couch and the wall, in the tupperware boxes
under my bed, ‘til the house became engorged with my goodness.
Mornings in bed, I watch videos of pig sanctuaries
and never once think of the smell of their crackling skin,
though, if I did, I might feel my lip curl back, my teeth
might grind against each other as if gnawing gristle from bone,
guided by some primitive part of myself I do not recognize.
What I do know is how to cut a rump roast with a deli slicer,
how to de-vein a shrimp in one slick motion, how to crack
a wishbone. I know that the acid in my throat when I see a video
of a dog caged and ready for slaughter in some unfamiliar country
has a different taste from the burn that comes from a face
pressed against a cattle car at a stoplight
where I scroll through my feed and follow the stories of lucky ducks
and elderly chickens, of extraordinary pigs solving puzzles and perplexed
farmers who wonder why their dog ran away after they sold their cow,
the same cow the dog snuggled long before he answered to his own name.
By Chloe Hanson
Like any TV father, I’m sure
he calls his daughter princess
while serving her a glass of milk,
white, thick, unblemished
as her skin, both mother-fresh,
newly-poured. Americana poster-children,
this family draws water from private wells.
Meanwhile the surface is no longer safe
for swimming, drinking. But there’s always
milk in the fridge. Glass-bottled nostalgia.
Father turns to camera. Do you know
he asks, dairy is both healthy and sustainable?
He tousles TV-daughter’s hair, she sips,
smiles with wet upper lip. Thanks, Dad!
She’s not his child any more than the penned
creature in the next shot is her mother,
no matter how this girl suckles
at the swollen teet. The father pours
another glass, this one for show only:
glue thinned with water, impossible-
- Chloe Hanson is a Ph.D. candidate at the University of Tennessee. Her work has recently been featured in The Rumpus, Gargoyle, and Contemporary Verse 2. Her current project is a book of poems titled Making a Killing, which re-tells fairy tales to draw attention to the systemic violence and oppression of both humans and nonhuman animals.
Copyright©2020 by Chloe Hanson. All Rights Reserved.