All Swine All the Time
She lay back on her couch. Odors swam in the air around her-of swine, and of great bougainvillea, too, and small slimy blue flowers.
The afternoon was dull and dusty. Her courtyard hens pecked, her nymphs turned a spit.
What crackled? A genuine hog or a hog once a man?
Her job wasn't to ask why or of what use. She had experimented within her limitations: swine with perfect pitch to their squealing, some with flesh that tasted of apples, others of almonds. She had made them with ears as small as a mouse's. One with a long straight tail that dragged in the courtyard. She made another capable of leaping like a flea. She made a gold one with a horn in his forehead. Before the night was out he died of no discernable causes.
Early in the morning one of them had been begging for a treat on his two back trotters, trying to stand. Instantly, on a whim, she returned him to his human body. He spun before her as if caught in heavy winds. When he stopped spinning, he stared down in amazement at his own soft feet and sank onto all fours, shoveling his nose through the dirt.
A swine's life requires appetite and indulgence, little more. She hardly had to wink at him before he changed back into the shape of his desires.
A hog nuzzled at her outstretched hand. Speak to me, she said. Speak to me. He leaned forward to have his thick floppy ear scratched. Speak to me, Odysseus, speak to me.
A little joke. As if he would ever come back to her. After his reunion with the dull throne dwarf Penelope.
That wife of his—men with wives like that enjoyed getting lost. Odysseus' wife shriveled while she pulled her yarn. Whereas, truth be told, Circe felt that she herself was many women wrapped into one. She would never shrivel, never wilt while crouching on some forlorn animal pelt in terror of the men in her own house.
Oh horrors, she was bored! She couldn't make a man into a monkey and keep him that way if she tried for three thousand years. Yes, she could transform every sandal-shod, sweaty-hanked, blister-backed man to disembark from every raft, galleon, or luxury liner. But to transform a man into a camel, a peacock, a weak-limbed lion? Anything other than swine evaporated into air within fifteen minutes or less. Of course she was a woman who put far too many demands on life. She was an unsavory woman, forever defying that mile-high standard: a sensible life. But wouldn't it be fun to make some monkeys?
The hog trotting toward her was the color of an apricot. His skin had the moistened, steamy look of a nymph stepping out of a hot bath. His tail curled like a hairy spring. No hog on earth ever trotted with a curlier tail. The tail curled and uncurled again rapidly, so fitfully that her heart expanded at the sight. She felt as much pride as a geneticist or the last of the gods. It is not the process that matters, she thought. What matters is the refinement of a basic principle.
The swine stood rooted before her. His eyes blinked, and his tail kept on. It coiled and coiled and coiled, more and more tightly and rapidly. Ripples ran back and forth over the animal's thick spine. And then, suddenly, the whole hog rolled right up into one big ball.
Lee Upton's fourth book of poetry, Civilian Histories, appeared from the University of Georgia Press in 2000. Her third book of criticism, The Muse Of Abandonment, was published by Bucknell University Press. Her fiction has appeared in The Antioch Review, Glimmer Train, Northwest Review, Ohio Review, Idaho Review, and other journals.