“I owe my existence and cheerful countenance to the pituitary glands
of thousands of pigs butchered daily in Chicago, Illinois at the Armour packing plant. If pigs wore garments I wouldn’t be worthy to kiss the hems of them.”
—Flannery O’Connor describing A.C.T.H., a drug made from hormonal secretions from pigs and administered to treat lupus.
I see them lining up for slaughter,
Judas at the head of the pack
grunting his way to survival, while my
pigs do not stand a chance, doomed creatures
that they are, and it’s a good thing. The fact
is, they save me. Without them I’d be dead
as they are after the bloody deed gets
done. I’m not one to sentimentalize.
I’d win no prizes for sweetness in the sweep-
stakes of life. Earth is a hard place,
but you get used to it. I can’t weep
for what must be, nor can I erase
the need that blinds and binds us. The debt I owe is big.
Each day I rise alive, I am the Judas pig.
“I don’t know if anybody can be converted without seeing themselves in a kind of blasting annihilating light, a blast that will last a lifetime.”
I felt the first blast when my father passed
out of this life and into another.
My face flushed hot and my young body shook
like a bride’s, the sheer shock of losing that man
to eternity. I felt death’s black breath
in my ear hissing his dark song.
I knew I was alone, despite my mother.
She couldn’t save me from what could & can
devour me. I wouldn’t look
when they set him in the ground. I asked
God to forgive my sins. And for a long
time prayer was private shibboleth
to keep me out of hell. I loved & hated
the world, stood in the light and waited.
“I don’t want further attention called to myself in this way.
My lupus has no business in literary conversations.”
—Flannery O’Connor, March 5, 1960,The Habit of Being
Like Keats and TB, an afterthought for me,
some folks just won’t leave it alone. As if
my body’s weakness infects my mind,
as if my life’s work could be defined
by a germ or gene that’s killing me, slow
and sure, when it’s the work that keeps me alive,
makes up what of me will finally survive
the onslaught of inevitability,
what wakes me up and what keeps me go-
ing when my body says no no no no.
The wound that teaches me how to live
is private as prayer and of no concern
to the stranger, distant and tentative.
It’s a lesson you need to be sick to learn.
Flannery in the Bullring
“The wolf, I’m afraid, is inside tearing up the place.”
—Flannery O’Connor, July 5, 1964, four weeks before
her death from Lupus
They call him the wolf, but he is a bull,
and I’m in the ring with him every day.
He weighs one-thousand pounds to my one-ten
and runs fast and hard as a steam engine
raging down the track toward hog-tied me.
I try to side step, wave my pea-
cock-colored cape before his dumb face,
but I seem to be all his bull’s eyes see.
I wonder what it’s like to be well.
To not live this life, this daily hell
of trying to keep my own death at bay,
fumbling for a sword, angling for a way
to stab his black hump, pierce his black heart,
and master, at last, the matador’s art.