Rebecca Gayle Howell’s poems and translations appear in such publications as Ninth Letter, Ecotone, 32 Poems, Indiana Review, Hayden’s Ferry Review, Great River Review, and Poetry Daily. She is the recipient of the Jules Chametzky Prize in Literary Translation from The Massachusetts Review and a fellowship from the Fine Arts Work Center. Her translation of Amal al-Jubouri's Hagar Before the Occupation/Hagar After the Occupation was chosen to inaugurate the Alice James Books Translation Series in 2011. 



How to Preserve

Boil the water bath
Drop glass

Drop hands
finger tips

speaking mouth

Drop memory
like glass

down into the bath
Bring up the heat

slow so none notice
nothing shatters

so the tongue can think
it might not be burned

might go on telling
what does not want to be told

This is how you preserve


before packing the jars
with glory

O Harvest
Hard won

and terrible





How to Kill a Hen

Enter the night coop

Through your teeth

In this awful world of sorrow

In this wicked path of sin

Tuck her
under your arm

and walk away
from the laying birds

their cuckold morning
rising in their dumb wings

Walk away from sleep

Make sure her hollow bones
alone will be warmed by it,

your wordless bellows

For this is your gift to her:

Tell her
you never think of tomorrow

Tell her or
what you’d lose in the end

Enter the night coop

Red light, so as not
to disturb the rest

Leave whistling
Climb the dust hill

When you get up
to the house

Ring once the orbit
of your failing

over your head
like a breaking neck

For this is your gift to her:

You can hear your savior calling
barefaced and feather red

         (Lines in italics are adapted from the song “Wicked Path of Sin” by Bill Monroe.)





How to Become Civilized

Because she once ran forest and field
but came to you when called,

loyal brute,
because her hooves are formed

for soil rich with decades,
fallen leaves, long rains

for earth that gives way
beneath foot and weight and foraging

because she did come
but sometimes went astray

we now keep the pen
keep control

Build it with tall walls
Build it long and with

indoor / outdoor

Make the pig think
she has a choice

she can defecate
away from where she eats

Make her think she can still be clean
Build a wood floor, keep the angle high

so you can wash down her shit and piss
if you have the time

so you can come to her
and take each leg up, each hoof

and scrub off the filth
or else, she’ll swell

her feet sore from splinter
and inert days 

and she’ll just
lie down

her muscles in atrophy
her meat in ruin

and you will have to quit
whatever it is you are doing

and take a stick
and prod her

take your boot 
and kick her

get up get up
If you have the time

build a pen, keep its walls high
She will adapt

This is how we were civilized




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