At the Municipal Slaughterhouse the head begin their journey through the slaughtering process with the stunner, move to the slitting room, the boiling room, the dehairing machine, the cutting room, the offal room, the room where the carcasses are divided into parts after which they are washed, inspected, sealed, weighed and placed in a cooling chamber before being sent out for sale and distribution. The meat is sold in stores packaged as “special meat”. What makes it special? Well, it’s human meat.
In Tender is the Flesh we meet Marcos Tejo who runs the Municipal Slaughterhouse. Tejo’s wife has left him to live with her mother. He has lost his son and his father is quietly slipping into dementia. Meanwhile he is waking up in cold sweats thinking about how little time it took the world to stop using the word ‘human’ to refer to special meat. As we walk through Marcos’ world we see the juxtaposition of Tejo’s humanity and the horrifying reality of how simple it would be for the world to justify the most abhorrent of things.
All hope seems lost until Tejo is given the gift of his very own head; a female head. Slowly we watch him begin to find hope and beauty in the atrocities that surround him. We watch Tejo remember the humanity of the head as the female goes from sleeping in the barn to eating human food in front of the television with Marco even though any interaction with the head is illegal and could lead to serious repercussions- more than likely being sent off to the processing plant himself. The warmth Marcos shows her is enough to restore the hope in humanity for anyone that has lost it and is also what makes the very final twist all the more horrifying. This book will hold you in hideous fascination from the beginning to the end and serves as a powerful reminder of the power of words and language and how close we can come to stripping others and ourselves of our humanity if we are not careful. This has been one of my favorite reads of the year. I highly recommend it.
Noelia Cerna is a Costa Rican poet based in Northwest Arkansas. She immigrated to the United States at the age of 7 and received a Bachelor’s degree in English from Westminster College in Missouri. Her writing has been published in audio form in Terse Journal, The Revolution [Relaunch], The North Meridian Review, the Plants and Poetry Journal, the Abantu Radio blog and Voices de la Luna.
Noelia is a reader and poetry feedback editor for Tinderbox Poetry Journal, an assistant poetry editor for Borderlands Texas Poetry Review, an associate editor for Sibling Rivalry Press, an editor for Nomadic Press, a poetry genre editor for Patchwork Lit Mag, a writing mentor for Pen America’s Prison Writing Mentorship Program and a recent recipient of the PEN America L’Engle-Rahman Prize for Mentorship, the board president and director of the Ozark Poets and Writers Collective. Keep up with her work, readings and publications at www.noeliacerna.com