When she could no longer prepare mash for the chickens or peel potatoes for the soup she lost her appetite even for bread and scarcely ate

He was painting himself black on the branches to watch the crows who no longer flew high but kept to the earth

Smaller than the stove she sat by the window where outside the leeks grow

By the wood stack - the hillsides of brushwood she had carried on her back - he crouched and became the chopping block

Her daughter-in-law fed the chickens put wood in the stove

At night he reclined on each side of the burning black fire burning her bed What she asked him was his opposite? Milk he answered with appetite

Lining the kitchen family and neighbours followed her fight for breath

High up on the mountain he pissed on snow and ice to melt the stream

She found it easier if she laid her head on the arm of the chair

His urine was the shape of an icicle and as colourless

In her hand she held a handkerchief to dab her mouth when it needed wiping

On his black mirror there was never breath

The guests as they left kissed the crown of her head and she knew them by their voices

He trundled out a barrow overturned it on the frozen dungheap its two legs still warm

The seventy-third anniversary of her marriage night she spent huddled in the kitchen from time to time calling her son she called him by his surname who rocked on his slippered feet like a bear

One mistake you made Death did not joke like a drunk You should not have grown old

I was not a thief she replied

Dead she looked as tall laid out on her bed in dress and boots as when a bride but her right shoulder was lower than the left on account of all she had carried

At her funeral the village saw the soft snow bury her before the gravedigger

John Berger from "Pig Earth" October 1, 2008
Posted on October 1, 2008