The Wastrel



The Hereford whose hairy flank

Caked with a mixture of manure and chaff

Hardened to a plaster cast

Turns her stanchioned neck and watches

As I hoe the planks on which she stands.

I speak to her as I speak to anyone

In the generality—Good morning

Did you rest well?—In the particular

—Have you eaten all the hay I shook out

From the bale last night?  Are you ready

For more?  Would you like to be outside now

In the barnyard with your beefy sisters stumbling

On the frozen clods of their droppings but

In each other’s company and eating at the rack?

I don’t expect an answer not a Moo

For when she speaks to me it’s just

To let me know that she’s in heat

Which I’d rule out today since she was bred

From the inseminator’s test tube nearly

Half a year ago and I’m counting

On a calf before the end of May.


I speak to her to break the icy silence of

The winter barn my breath rising to the cobwebs

Black with hay dust and to cheer myself

As I explode the twine-bound bales

Shaped by baler into cornerstones

—Here’s June in January for you, cow.


Sure she’s lonesome lousy frets

Wants freedom as does any convict.

She’d run, kick hind legs stiffly

Toward the sky, butt, push the smaller calves around

Shoulder them away from choicer feed.  Given

Half a chance all cows are tyrants

Soft brown eyes belying bovine-bully natures.

This one when small got pushed or squeezed herself

Between the bars into the hayrack where cows heads

Should only be.  She’d eat her fill, and though she knew

The entrance knew no exit till I took a club

And drove her—having soiled the hay already

And soiling it again beneath my whacks.

Now cows are fussy where they eat

Not where they manure.  They’ll starve

Before they touch the feed on which they drop.

Unlike a sow who saves a corner for her

Business cows will defecate in mangers filled

With clover and the clover then can rot, they’ll

Roar for food turn up their pretty muzzles

At what only they have soiled.


This trick of squeezing in became habitual vice.

I tried to reason with her—there was hay enough

For all no need to climb into the manger

Like Aesop’s dog.  Besides hay’s cash valuable.

It costs to grow to cut to cure to bale

To store away; but nothing else would satisfy

And mornings when I came for chores

There she’d be bedded down in feed

Cud-chewing, smugly eyeing my approach

Having eaten no more than had she stood

Cow-politely with her sisters outside heading in.


If I were a cow social worker I’d try to work with her

Get to the root of her urge for

Non-conformity persuade her to find

Satisfaction in being more not less

Like other cows, a happy member of

A happy team working toward a

Predetermined goal.


Of course it could be she understands the goal.

Maybe there’s a mind in all that brain that realizes

Why I bother with a cow at all.  In another year

She’ll be in the locker too, tidily dismembered,

Neatly packaged, labeled, frozen,

Ready for the recipes and oven.


Still for now she has it good—

All life’s a death sentence in any case

All freedom’s limited as well

If she can’t appreciate what good

She’s got to Hell with her.

Until the snow has left and pasture’s green

Here she’ll stay plastered, solitary, morose.


Wasteful, unreasoning,

Non-conforming cows

Take warning.