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
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.