Of the Flesh

A poem exploring what it means to be of the flesh, mortal and vulnerable to an individual action. In this sense, we are no different from the buck-rabbit.

by Yvonne Reddick with illustration by Kate Balding

"I still wanted to free that cry when I painted the beef carcass. I have not yet succeeded."

– Chaïm Soutine.

The kick of your father’s gun –

the shot

sent a buck-rabbit

thrashing in convulsions –

its cry entered me.

You twisted the neck. It lay

abruptly silent. Still,

after three years, I hear the cry.

But I, too, have stripped

the skin like a robe

and slid a hand between the strakes

of ribs, to feel

the still-warm heart.

I have returned

the blank gaze of a peeled head.

But when I saw the creature’s arms

thrown wide, baring the emptied chest,

its voice of wire

filled my ears.

That night, an air rifle cracked through sleep

by the sett in the woods

and the cry seized my throat –

broke off, severed

as your fingers found my nape in the dark.

Originally published: Spikenard (Laureate’s Choice, 2019)

Yvonne Reddick is a poet, researcher and editor. She enjoys getting outdoors in the Peak District and volunteering for a conservation charity in Manchester. Her publications include Ted Hughes: Environmentalist and Ecopoet and Poetry, Grief and Healing. She currently holds an AHRC Leadership Fellowship at UCLan, researching poets’ responses to environmental issues. Her poetry has appeared in The Guardian and her critical work in the Times Literary Supplement.

Half Irish, half Kiwi, Kate Balding peaked in life when she interviewed Sir David Attenborough for her BSc dissertation 3 years ago. From these heady heights she has descended, taking on an MSc in Nature, Society and Environmental Governance at Oxford last year and getting to spend 6 weeks on an avian island sanctuary in New Zealand under the guise of “research”. Runner, eater, debate-haver and feminist, you can find out more about her by checking out her environmental podcast https://tinyurl.com/y9gco5wu or her instagrams @Kate.balding & @katesallforms!