Even our names for the cows who gave us
calves for sale and slaughter, who gave us milk
and cream and butter, who quit mooing soon enough
when we weaned their calves away from them—
even our names for them were blunt
and uninspired, unmarked by attachments
of the heart. The Red Cow, the Little Cow,
Brindle. We called one of them the New Cow
for fifteen years. And by the summer the Red Cow
lay down beneath the tree at noon and failed
to get back up again to graze among the others,
she was very old—the last of our grandfather’s cows,
blind in one eye as long as we had known her,
blinded when one of the Meischen brothers
shot her with a BB gun, hit her in the eye,
as if somehow this punishment would nudge her
out of the slow uncomprehending amble down
the trail a cow is born to follow. He was wrong:
for the rest of her life she was just more skittish.
And now she was dying, hunkered down inside
herself, unmoved by our impatience, waiting out the end.
Daddy took one look and headed for the gun closet,
afterwards slung a heavy chain around the carcass
and hooked it to the tractor, dragged her
from beneath the tree and out into the bare
grazed-over field beyond, issued blunt directives
to the three of us, left us behind to finish up.
We piled dried brush, scrap lumber, old fence posts
over the Red Cow and tended the fire, strange
at midsummer, the winter brush-burning odors
of mesquite and huisache, the bed of ashes, embers
beneath that would smolder for days, burning her bones clean.
Southern Review, Summer 2004
A Note About the Poem:
For some insights into the drafting of "Fire at Midsummer" and the how of my revision process, click on my Nonfiction link and take a look at the guest blog I wrote for Superstition Review.