The Iowa Dirge – by Justin Van Kleeck

I hear so many screams
Bestial cries
Of terror and pain
Cut off
choked out
shocked into silence.
And death.

Death in obscurity and shadows
Produced on an assembly line
Manufactured in factories,
of flesh, blood, feather, bone
Clipped beaks
Docked tails
And pools of blood and feces
To bathe in on every square inch
Of the cold hard concrete floors.

The whir of the machines
The pneumatic jab of the bolt gun
The buzz and sizzle of electrical water,
All things hardwired into the machine.

Cogs spin
Gears scream
Teeth clench and lock and whirl
Wheel within wheel
Of satanic mills whirling
Vortexes sucking in flesh
Ground up
Choice cuts separated
And the rest shipped overseas
But worth something
Sold or rendered
To minimize waste
For better returns on the dollar.

What is the price
Of each life severed?
Where does that figure
Into corporate projections
Shareholder dividends
And stock-market ratings?

Are the costs of those lives
Written off
As the necessary costs
inevitable evils
Of the machine at work,
The assembly line running
From field to table
from seed to fork
from soil to stomach?

Show me.
I want to see them.
Show me the balance sheets.
Show me the assembly line.
Let me hear their cogwheels whirling.
Let me hear the teeth, the gun, the steely screams.
Let me know how your fortified food factory
the Earth
Runs like a well-oiled
Under the iron fist of your
Assembly line.

The doors of your factory are locked.
The windows, like mistakes on the factory walls,
Are barred, locked, sealed, covered.
There is barbwire atop the chain-link fences.
The security guard is armed and refusing access.
(And are those snipers on the rooftop?)
But all I want is
To see
to hear
to smell
to know.

The grocery-store packages, boxes, cans
Are dumb witnesses
Speaking nothing
Silent like the guards outside your factories—
I know because I have asked them,
Inquired in vain
For you have them well trained,
Like the people shuffling down the aisles,
And narrativized
Through the PR department
In which life becomes a widget
And then becomes a trope,
Farm to machine to idyll,
Built atop a humming machine.

The farmers
Are now all clocked in
Standing in their places
Along the line, day to day,
With no overtime, awful wages,
And sure as hell no benefits.
For they too are expendable,
A commodity
An expense
Wheel within wheel
Object upon object
Along the line, day to day.

I can hear the screams
Of the wheels, of the widgets,
Standing here beyond the arc lights
Outside of your fortified factory farm.
Let me in
let me see
let me hear.
Let me know.

For I am not part of your machine.

About the Author

Justin Van Kleeck I am a vegan (since 1999), a curious skeptic, a bookworm, a nature lover, a doctor (of philosophy, in English), and your garden-variety neurotic. I am fun at parties (because I am never there) and so unique that I am easy to forget. So take that, modernity.