southern suburbs, Xi’an, Shaanxi, PRC, 1986
Every morning, we go down to the market and watch the axe men slaughter pigs beginning at dawn. They sleep there, too, both the men and pigs, and then standing in darkness among the carbide lanterns hiss and glare.
So much killing has made them, the axe men, cruel and, in boredom, they often torture the pigs just for something to do; they don’t kill them before gutting them and we watch that, too, pig eyes rolling first in pig skulls and then in the dirt, pig squeals thick in the air like seagulls screaming, the cast-iron smell of pig blood, and axe men laughing.
The people’s radio, the loudspeakers still affixed to poles around the market, at 7:00 a.m. Unified China Time still blare military music for morning calisthenics but nobody does them anymore. The cadence overlays all else like a tulle fog, shrill skirling, and numbers up to four, starting all over again.
(From Artificial Rats & Electric Cats, Camber Press, 2008. Click on title or cover for more information.)