Found Poetry: The Stockyards of South St. Paul

prose

Dan Barry of the New York Times brought his excellent column, This Land, to the Twin Cities recently, where he wrote about the final day and the last auction at the South St. Paul stockyard, which has been bought and sold to make way for suburbanization. “Pens for people,” Barry notes. I have some vague remembering of these stockyards existing, but I never really knew anything about them. I didn’t know that they were once the largest in the country, for example.

Being a fan of Carl Sandburg I really enjoyed this piece, a story about the clash between two Americas and the ground lost by one of them, the America that Sandburg and others with a poetic bent would consider the “real” or “honest” America. Barry honors Sandburg with his lyrical prose and vivid retelling of the stockyard’s last day. He leaves the social tension simmering in the background while focusing on the lives and stories of those who work/worked the yards for many years. I’m especially taken (as Barry was) with the auctioneer’s tale, how he sing-songs his way into history. The poetry of the occasion is not lost on the workers or ranchers; they name the last cow to be sold “Timeless.” Nor is the irony ever lost on them: free hamburgers are given out during the auction in a nearby cafe.

However you feel about eating meat and the treatment of cattle, this is a wonderful piece about a changing country and tradition vs. modernity.

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