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Elegy for a Slaughtered Swine
Men do not often cook, out behind these hills. It’s women’s domain, the kitchen, but they’ve shown me the ways of all that is theirs to rule. I could cook up a soup or a curse without leaving this room. The former is simple. Cabbage and potato and smoked sausage and olive oil. The latter is simpler still.
Your mother is expecting. Her womb is the first ingredient. Already you have six older brothers to race you for her love, or six older sisters. When she names you, she is careless with her choice. Later, the priest cannot untangle his prayers, his tongue slips on the edge of the baptismal font. We’re cooking, remember: stir it all with a wooden spoon and the devil will know you are unwanted. Your mother, she doesn’t care for you, for this mistake she’s made in the marriage bed, or out behind the church with her skirts hiked up, or up on the moor wearing as little shame as sin itself. Neither does your father. They have six other, older mouths to feed. They’ll let you feed yourself, may the devil bless them. You will hunt. You will run with the wolves. You will grow hackles and claws and eyes the color of burnt sugar, and you will be gone from their concerns. You will cross seven cemeteries and seven streams and seven hills and seven sins from your ledger every night before Sunday dawns.
I was the seventh. I never hunted. I never ran with the wolves. I never grew hackles or claws or eyes the color of burnt sugar. My curse was spoiled halfway in the making, when they called me Benedito and spoke all the proper words and drowned me in holy grace. No precaution was too great, but still they would not have me. Better to find the finest doorstep in the village and leave me to wake the terrible man within with my cries. Say the devil did come for me, against all odds? I don’t blame them for thinking the master of this great house would be the one to ward him off.
The second boy’s parents must have thought the same, but Ezequiel was ten on a rainy morning, and I was nine, Ezequiel was filthy, and I was pristine in my Sunday best, Ezequiel was cursed, and I so blessed. It’s been over a decade since we’ve met, and little has changed.
He is sometimes man, sometimes wolf.
It falls to me, once a week, to await him by sunrise and wrap him in coarse blankets and help him back into his body. It falls to me to make this soup, and to keep my eyes on the kitchen table where his rifle lies in wait for his hands, and to pretend I didn’t use it to kill a man tonight while he was away.
“How’s Father?” Ezequiel asks, enunciating every word as if learning how to speak it, eyes flat on the dancing flames in the hearth. He was gone the whole night — a thoughtless beast — yet he won’t waste a moment on himself. His new skin glistens on his bare shoulders. He may be raw and still unfinished, but no matter. Guilt will do that to a man. Guilt and shame and a curse for a legacy, though he just calls it fate.
I didn’t kill him. Our father. The master of this great house, I should call him, since he’s no father of mine. I killed one of his men, yes, a shepherd turned hunter, but not him. He is already feeble, in need of no sharpshooter to aid in his passing. The village women tell me he slips from us, night after night, because the air in his lungs was once inside a wolf’s own. Strange, the village women think. There are no wolves here, only large dogs and a cursed young man. What a mystery. What a tragedy. What a real, real shame.
Their mothers and grandmothers and great-grandmothers taught them how to exorcize this miasma from a dying man, but it takes a tool and a purpose, and they have none. If cabbage soup and curses are simple, this is arithmetic the likes of which we don’t learn so far from the city. The tool is a severed windpipe, butchered right out of a wolf and held up high; the simplest of waters, when poured through, will turn into medicine in the sick man’s drinking glass. It takes a wolf to save a man damned by a wolf, they say, but no howling has traveled the Iberian winds for months. What a real, real shame, the village women keen, clicking their tongues and needles towards brighter thoughts.
More than the tool, they lack the purpose. When he’s gone, they will not stoop to mourn their master, and neither will I. We have been on the receiving end of his lashes, his words, his endless reproach. Ezequiel too, but he’d present his face to any fist and care for the bruised knuckles afterwards. Sometimes man, sometimes wolf, and faithful fucking lap dog above it all.
To think I killed for him tonight. Used up all my blessings because a hunter tracked him — the wolven farce of him — through the night, followed his every move down the barrel of a gun, and I pulled the trigger before he could. Once in the gut and once in the head.
I’ll tell Ezequiel about it. Once he’s done with his soup. I will. I promise.
But it was an accident. I wasn’t thinking, I didn’t mean to kill him, I just—
I’ll tell him. Eventually.
I just didn’t know how else to protect you.
There is a girl who runs with the wolves, too. She distrusts me and I her, but we hold a bargain. In the morning, I drop three sacks at her feet, their burlap changed from tan to viscous red to crusted brown, and we are alone with this secret in the holy geometry of these mountains. The bells toll down in the village. The girl walks a slow circle around me, her bare feet leaving no footprints, her eyes dark as plums in the sleep-deprived emaciation of her face.
“For a man blessed even in name,” she begins, “you’ve done a very ugly thing.”
“And how would you know?”
She smiles, like only mischievous children can. “The devil talks.”
“Yes, but you shouldn’t listen.”
“He tells me stories. You never tell me stories,” she says, kicking one of the sacks open. I look away. I may have hacked this man to pieces, swung the cleaver like I’ve seen the butcher do, rubbed my palms raw on the washboard afterwards, like so many dirty sheets, up and down and up and down until the water ran clear of blood — but I haven’t really seen.
“He told me about you, last night,” she continues. “He thinks you should write a letter to your parents, tell them they can stop praying for your soul. The devil’s found you, and he’ll walk beside you from now on.”
I pull at the knees of my pants and crouch before her. “The devil said that, did he?”
“He did,” she says, standing very straight, morphing into something old and weathered, like the wrinkles are only just waiting for the right moment to settle on her still-soft face, her plush cheeks, her baby-fat chin. Girls like her, we call peeiras, wolf fairies, wolf maidens. It takes a town to push a wolf, but only a girl to pull a pack. She is a legend in its infancy.
“And what did you say to him?” I ask.
“Nothing. The devil talks more than he listens.”
She’s right, as it seems women so often are about these things. I’ve heard him too, a ringing in my ears after that first shot, a rush of blood to my head, the drag of my lids like sandpaper against my eyes whenever I tried to blink the forest into focus. Ezequiel, shrouded somewhere inside that scrawny wolf, had kept on running. We’d meet at dawn. I’d slip my arm through his and kiss his shoulder and we’d stumble our way home. We’d live — but it seemed unfair that the hunter would, too, so I fired again.
I may have meant the first shot, but I know the devil meant the second.
I’ve known about him longer than he’s known about me, ever since I was young and in love and uncouth with my blessings, and Ezequiel laughed into that first kiss and welcomed it as part of his fate, too; ever since I took our truth to confession and found nothing but talk of the devil beyond the latticed partition, nothing but hatred spoken like the truest of scriptures. A man is not a woman, I was told. No, I thought. A man is a man is a man, even if he is sometimes a wolf. And maybe the devil could find a home in the space between the two, but it was not the devil who compelled me to love. Not then, and even though I’ve done this very ugly thing, not now.
“Next time you see him, Maria,” I begin, and her face perks up. “Next time you see the devil, tell him I don’t care for him. Tell him he has no business with me. Tell him he has no business with any of us.”
“The devil listens less than he talks.”
I flick her nose and stand up. She smiles, charming but ruinous, every yellow tooth a reminder of the forces of nature encased in this ten-year-old body, and slumps back into girlhood.
“Thank you for the meat. The pack will appreciate the kindness.”
Such is our bargain. She keeps the wolves out of the village. I keep them fed. She distrusts me and I her, but I love Ezequiel and she doesn’t hate him, though it’s likely her wolves would. We’re all better off if we keep out of each other’s way.
Inside the house, the air is as thick as my day-old soup. Ezequiel often complains the house smells stale to him, who runs one night a week, who wakes to the sun on his face and the dirt on his back, but it’s the first I notice it. Candle wax and fried food and smoked meats and fermented grapes and something medicinal underneath it all and the railing so thick with grime I could carve Maria’s stories into it with my fingernails.
In the upstairs hallway, candles float in shallow dishes of olive oil, bathing Our Lady of Fátima and the Infant Jesus of Prague in flickering flame. I push the master’s door open, and he raises his head off the pillow, just an inch or so. When he croaks, it sounds like Ezequiel.
“No. Just me, old man,” I assure him, drawing closer to claim the armchair by his bedside. He gives me a once-over as I settle against the throw pillows, and I wonder if he sees what I’ve done, what’s come to change since the sun last set on us.
“How is—” he struggles to speak and breathe at once, and it offends the very memory of who he used to be, a man fit to rival the devil himself, a voice to drown out the very thunder.
“He’s fine,” I offer, and the master settles. Ezequiel’s fine. Ezequiel still wasn’t speaking much, still sat cocooned in his blanket when I left to meet the wolf maiden, still hasn’t come upstairs if this question is anything to go by — but these are details. All the master wants to know is whether his second son survived the seven cemeteries and seven streams and seven hills he had to cross before Sunday dawned.
He did, and I’m the one to thank. I say so. He says I did good. I scoff. Good is my only attribute. Good is the reason I’ve become a man in this great house, when I could have just as easily died a baby on its doorstep. Good raised my station from seventh son to first, from fearful parents to a fearless master. Good is all I strive to be, despite everything. Despite the ways of this dying monster and the unforgiving confessional and the blood under my fingernails.
I’ll tell Ezequiel about it, once he’s done with his blanket. I will. I promise.
I find him downstairs, just outside the kitchen, splitting firewood for the stove with the sun on his back. On his face, he carries the knitted brow and guarded expression I’ve come to expect from Sunday afternoons — Ezequiel isn’t fully returned, not yet, but already it’s hard to believe he was ever gone.
“You should go see him,” I say, about the man he calls father and I call master. “He’s asked about you.”
Ezequiel swings the maul and misses; the momentum drives the sharp edge inch-deep into the splitting block, and this isn’t what bones sound like when they break, but my stomach still turns. He struggles to unwedge it and stops trying. He tucks his shoulders into his chest and his arms under each other.
“He doesn’t want me around,” he says as he walks past me and into the busy confines of the kitchen. Our old Aurora, wearing black from headscarf to house slippers, peels potatoes for supper, and Ezequiel stomps his feet on his way to her side. It takes her a moment to find the sounds he makes, but she smiles when he picks up a knife and lends his idle hands to the chore. I take up a pan that needs scrubbing, and we are all three lulled, right away, into the comfortable silence we can only cultivate in this room, where the master’s influence doesn’t dwell. Though I grit my teeth at times, when the scouring pad scratches new lines into my ruined palms, I don’t complain. We are a hundred-year-old widow and a cursed man and a blessed man. We have no use for small talk.
“I shouldn’t have come back,” Ezequiel whispers. This isn’t for Aurora to hear.
“What do you mean, you shouldn’t—”
He presses the knife flat against the cutting board, like he meant to slam it but couldn’t stand the noise. “I just told you what I mean.”
“Tell me in better words, then. Simpler words, if you will.”
There is a glint of amusement in his eye when he looks my way, but he’s searching for something other than sincerity, and he won’t find it. What little skill I had for provocation is gone. I’m stripped bare by the ugliness of what I’ve done, just another one of those naked souls in paintings, awaiting judgment.
I haven’t been to church in years, so it should be a long wait.
“He wants me dead,” Ezequiel says.
And then he’s tapping his throat, and it rings hollow as a wolf’s, and I’m sure I’ve misheard him somehow, but Aurora’s already crossing herself so how much was there to hear, really, how much was there to misunderstand when his fingers have made the subject of his words so clear?
The master wants him dead. For his windpipe. For the tool of his salvation.
“But you’re not a—”
“—a wolf?” He offers the word like a challenge, and it’s a challenge I don’t stand up to. In the unopposed silence that follows, he begins to pace, the weight of all that he carries settling back on his shoulders. “I suppose I am enough of one.”
Ezequiel, beautiful Ezequiel who is sometimes man, sometimes wolf, wasn’t there the night Aurora told me how fates such as his can be broken. She never calls it a curse; just a fate, a fado, etched into his life as the heart lines into our hands, and she wouldn’t have told me had I not asked. It’s no easy task, driving off that which can’t not be.
We were alone in this kitchen, I toed the line between old boy and young man and she stood as ancient a woman as she’s always been, and I told her everything. How somewhere between a kiss and a caress I’d lost track of myself, and how later, somewhere between man and wolf, I’d lost track of Ezequiel. How I’d learned no two people and no two things can be the same at once. You can’t be blessed and cursed, you can’t be man and wolf. And yet, if you look just right, she said, and I listened as intently as if she were teaching me to stare down the devil, not even you will be able to deny he is man and beast at once. If you look just right, young master, you will see. Make him bleed then, and he will no longer be fated to run with the wolves.
How, I asked.
God does not care how you bleed, so long as you do, she answered.
God may not care how Ezequiel bleeds, but God and I aren’t speaking, and I don’t trust His messengers. I care. I cared enough to maim a man last night, and I cared enough to let the devil force my hand into the kill.
Blessed as I may be, I’m done with unearthly counsel. I can guide my own hands.
I charge into the dining room, where the table’s set for three on the embroidered cloth, waiting for the master to come down for supper with his rescued sons, and I snatch the silverware as I pass through. It’s caked with dust, the handles dull from lack of polish, but it should be enough to buy us our way out of here.
“Put it back, love,” Ezequiel says, coming up behind me. When he kisses the nape of my neck, it does seem ridiculous to be standing here, planning a grand escape armed only with a butter knife — but I don’t know what else to do. “It’s too late, I’ve been sent for.”
The master wants Ezequiel dead and Ezequiel wants whatever the master wants. Sometimes man, sometimes wolf, sometimes faithful fucking lap dog, and it seems, ultimately, sacrificial lamb.
“You may have been sent for, but you haven’t gone yet,” I say.
“I don’t care about last night, I care about—”
“—Father sent a man for me.”
Oh. This part of the story, turns out, I know all about.
“It should have been done last night,” Ezequiel continues, breathing down the back of my shirt collar, “but the man didn’t come back, and I did, and — and I don’t know what to think, maybe I killed him, maybe—”
His voice breaks, and he doesn’t put it back together; it takes every last ounce of my self-control to stay here and witness this when I could be taking my silverware upstairs to feed the master his own tongue. He is hell-made flesh, and that I’ve always known, a stranger to the crucifix standing watch above his bed, but to think he would ever send for one of our deaths to delay his own . . . it changes things. It rearranges the rooms in this house, and we are no longer welcome.
It rearranges the things I’ve done, none so ugly as this, and just like that — the devil’s gone from my side.
We check on the master every morning and the morning after. The morning after that, too. He doesn’t get better nor does he get worse, and it’s difficult to think of this plateau as anything other than a prelude to a steep decline.
Unwanted as he may be, flaunting a life that should have ended last Saturday, Ezequiel still sits by his bedside, pressing the back of his hand to his nearly translucent forehead, tucking the mercury-in-glass between his chapped, swollen lips. Sometimes, I can swear the master’s fingers twitch on the flannel sheets. I can swear he bares his teeth when Ezequiel bows his head or leans over his prone body to tuck the covers under his clammy chin. How it must ache, to be so close to the object of his salvation; how it must ache harder still, to know I’m watching.
“I’m sorry I hid it from you,” Ezequiel tells me one morning, holding out a piece of apple on the tip of his pocket knife. We’re sitting astride the stone wall that marks the edge of the master’s orchard, and this is as far as he’ll go and I’m tired of fighting, so I just inch closer and bite the apple off the blade.
We haven’t talked about it, but it’s here, looming between us, it’s here in the way he avoids my eyes to hide his shame. He knew. He knew about the hunter long before I did and it’s not difficult to imagine how that little council must have gathered, the master of this great house and his wolfman of an adopted son and the hunter who would kill one to save the other.
“I just wanted to do the right thing,” he says. “All those years ago, he knew I was fated to run, but he still took me in. I thought — I thought he’d seen something of worth in me then, and this would be the time to prove it.”
I know, and that I can forgive; I can forgive that he would give up on us, on me. I can forgive that he would do anything for the man he calls father. Children don’t chomp their way out of the womb and dogs don’t bite the hand that feeds, and to demand the opposite is to corrupt their very essence. This is who he is. “But why not tell me about it?”
Ezequiel smiles, but he’s all teeth and no bite. “Because you’d lose your mind.”
I did lose it. But I’m no longer sure I’ll tell him.
“I wanted to spare you,” he continues. “I wanted to — I wanted you to sleep through it. You’d wake up on Sunday and go to church and start over, and — and I’d no longer be a burden to you.”
“A burden, is that—”
“You deserve better than a cursed thing.”
He’s playing with his pocket knife when he says it, picking bits of moss off the dips in the wall, and it’s a while before I hear it. Curse. Not fate, this time, fuck fate, fate wouldn’t sentence him to the precise point where a dagger ends and a throat begins, and it’s not too late to see the path this realization sets before us, it’s not too late to break free. If it takes a wolf to save a man damned by a wolf, we’ll put the wolf to death. We’ll break the curse. We’ll relieve him of whatever value the master sees in his slaughter, we’ll—
“We could fix you,” I say. “Aurora knows how, we could—”
“It’s not my choice to make.”
No, of course not. It’s God’s, or the devil’s, and may the dirt we stand on swallow them both. The hills are so quiet, this evening. The sun’s about to settle among them, the farmers and shepherds have taken to their homes. It’s just us and this wall and this apple tree, and Maria just beyond the horizon with her wolves that never howl, lest we hear them and dive for their windpipes, too, and Ezequiel is a precious cursed thing and his hair twists into spirals in the wind and I love him past the point of butterflies, I love him through thick and thin and till death do us part.
It’s my choice to make, then. God won’t slit his throat, the devil won’t break his curse, but I am a blessed man, I am the only blessed man here, and if not me, then who?
I review Aurora’s lesson as we walk back to the house. Look just right. Find the moment when he is man and beast at once. Make him bleed. It’s simple enough, and his rifle is where he’s left it, propped against the doorframe.
I can do this.
I go to Maria first. I bring a blanket and a just-baked, still warm loaf of broa to the wolf maiden, and we sit together atop the hill. She looks through me with her big black eyes and says nothing. We are alone in the world.
“I need your help,” I demand, more than ask, before I explain the details of my plan. I repeat Aurora’s words to her, though I am clumsy with them, less respectful of their history, and she smiles at me like a priest on the receiving end of a sermon. I suppose she’s heard this story before. I suppose she knows all about curses and how to break them.
“I need you to tell me when the moment is right, Maria.”
She stops as she halves the bread, the hardened crust cracking but not quite breaking under the force of her frail — and now distraught — hands.
“It’ll never be right,” she wraps her shawl tighter around her narrow shoulders, pulling her knees to her chest, “if you do it against his will.”
“He has none.”
“He has some. He just won’t tell you.”
I still haven’t made my peace with the things he won’t tell me, but I swallow the bile and try again. “Just tell me what you want in return for your help. I don’t care what it is, just say the words and I’ll find it for you. I can’t do this alone.”
She stares at me, her teeth worrying at a shard of bread crust, and even though she needs saving too, I know she doesn’t understand. She doesn’t know Ezequiel. She knows of him, through my words and through the howling, but she doesn’t know him. She wouldn’t mourn him if he were to die. No, perhaps she would even rejoice, free to roam the mountains with her beasts again, a pack of glorious wanderers without a bargain to uphold.
“I want stories.”
“Maria, please, be serious—”
“I want you to come visit more often. The devil’s loud when I’m all alone,” she says, wound tight around herself, her wolves circling just beyond the edge of my vision, “but you could speak over him if you tried.”
It baffles me that she can ask for so little and so much at once.
In the end, I tell Ezequiel to forgo the master’s hunters. I will do it. I tell him that if he is my burden, I will carry him to the end. Get me a gun and a knife, and before Sunday dawns you’ll be but a butterflied dead wolf, throat slashed open, short a life-saving windpipe.
He kisses me, hands tight on my neck, and I wonder if he believes me at all, if he hopes I’ll place my scarring hands on him just like this and rip out his throat, bleed him for a man I hate and live in peace afterwards. I wonder if he trusts me so little, or so much.
We walk the cobblestones together as the village sleeps behind lace curtains through the longest night of the week. Down by the crossroads, Ezequiel slips out of his cloak, shivering as he kneels on it and waits, like always, for the devil to come and claim him. I join him on the ground, taking his fingers between mine, and look for a girl breaking curfew.
“You know,” Ezequiel says, “I think it was God’s hand that saved me. Last time, from the hunter. Maybe we were fated to end up here. Maybe it just — it wouldn’t be right if you weren’t the one to do it.”
I say nothing. Let him think it was God’s hand on his rifle. Let him think it was God’s hand quartering a man and feeding him to the wolves, I’ll be whoever he needs for as long as he needs it.
There’s Maria now, crouching tiny between a lone cart and a stone wall.
“You should let go,” Ezequiel warns, his head falling forward as a shiver runs through him, pulls his muscles into a tight coil. “It’s starting.”
Out of habit, I do let go, and Ezequiel doesn’t fight the fall when his bare arms meet the ground. It’s a new moon, the sky coal-black but clear, the stars bright and distant. I raise the rifle. His rifle, the tool of this betrayal. All I have to do is shoot, make him bleed in the precisely right moment, and he’ll no longer be cursed. God does not care how you bleed, so long as you do.
“Tell me when,” I speak into the night.
The girl slips from behind the cart to come stand at my side.
Ezequiel convulses, and I force myself to look on past the point of luridness. It’s akin to something I saw once, parasitic wasps devouring a caterpillar from the inside out, slithering under its gelatinous skin, maneuvering their diseased host to their will. This wolf, too, is a parasite, crawling its way out of a ribcage too large for its body, clawing at skin yet unbroken, an animal moving inside a human suit, adjusting the seams to its form. I keep my finger steady on the trigger. This is not its body to claim.
“Now,” she whispers.
The thing is now clearly wolf-shaped, but bare, tailless, a naked dog displaying its belly for rubs. Grotesque.
“Now, or you won’t get another chance.”
I keep my finger steady on the trigger. The thing rolls onto all four legs, testing them out, learning to walk as fur sprouts from its skin. When it turns to face us, the sound is that of sharp new claws on ancient cobblestones. When it licks its lips, when it shakes its head and watches us both with curious brown eyes, the stance is that of a soulless husk — nothing left of the man I love.
The moment is gone.
She rests a cold, dirty hand on my wrist. The wolf, as if awaiting word from its queen, walks away into the night. Ezequiel is gone. I lower the rifle, and he is still cursed. Still a wolf. Still vulnerable. Still of worth to those interested in curing the master of this great house.
“Watch over him,” I tell her. Then I run.
I run, certainly not with the wolves but just like them. I run towards the great house and up against the front door, which I struggle to unlock. I vault the steps of the main staircase and try to slip down the hallway without disturbing the perpetual candles, but they’ve been snuffed out.
“I did not think we would need them anymore, young master,” Aurora says as she shuffles past me, her voice made uneven by age and faulty hearing. “What a tragedy. What a real, real shame.”
I push the master’s door open.
It’s so quiet the fire itself has dozed off, just embers left to warm the dying man, but he is awake. He struggles to sit upright, but words are lost to the froth on his lips and I’m sure, if he has indeed asked Ezequiel for his life, if he has indeed placed his final shot in the hands of a cursed no-son-of-his but lover-of-mine, he won’t be able to confirm it. I’m sure, this time, he won’t recover.
“Settle down, old man. It’s just me.”
He blinks, slowly, with intention. I take it as encouragement to continue, but I remain quiet, clutching a checkered throw pillow. Why did I even wait for his signal? What is there left to fear if I speak out of turn? What, pray tell, when he lies supine and I stand so very tall?
What am I trying to say to him, anyway? That my purposes are noble, that I am blessed, that I am doing the right thing? That I killed his hunter, that I tried but failed to break his son’s curse, that we all knew this day would come?
“I am really, really sorry for this,” I say instead.
Ah. So he speaks, still. I relax my grip on the pillow. “Take your time.”
But he has nothing left to say, other than please.
I replace the pillow. I fix my hair, fix my face, fix the sheets, fix the dead man’s eyelids, rekindle the fire. I pack my things, though they are few; Ezequiel’s too, fewer still. I dump the silverware into a suitcase, then a children’s book.
Let us cross seven cemeteries and seven streams and seven hills and seven sins from our ledger before tomorrow dawns.
About the Author
Rafaela Ferraz is a writer of short stories, articles, and essays focused on strange, macabre, and often overlooked chapters of Portuguese history. Her fiction has appeared in Strange Horizons, while her non-fiction has appeared in Atlas Obscura and The Order of the Good Death. She tweets as @RafaelaWrites
About the Narrator
Carlo Matos has published ten books, including The Quitters (Tortoise Books) and It’s Best Not to Interrupt Her Experiments (Negative Capability Press). His work has appeared in such journals as Pank, Diagram, and Rhino, among many others. Carlo is a Disquiet International Literary Program and CantoMundo fellow and a winner of the Heartland Poetry Prize. He lives in Chicago with his partner and ten-year-old son. He is the editor of City Bank and a former MMA fighter and kickboxer.