Monday, January 5, 2009
Walk at Twilight:
At twilight I took Alf out for a walk
following Bobby's tracks
across my late uncle's farm, and recalling
on the way, because we passed the old
cemetery of the Vaughts, how he'd asked me
when I was a kid, headed to the branch for
my first campout overnight, wasn't I
afraid of haints.
He's one now, if he's anything.
Rain has swelled Dry Branch
to a rush. Alf had to swim, I jumped.
We walked up to Bobby, standing still
on the hillside, watching his cows.
I stopped and stayed quiet, in a little while
he asked his greeting question - "What
do you think about it now?"
I think it's good was my reply.
A little more silence and he began to talk:
"There's another new calf over there, see her?
I found her in the branch, the cow'd had her
then she fell in. I got her out, still covered with
blood and afterbirth, carried her over there
on the hill to her mommy and she went to licking it off.
She didn't mind me at all. I raised her - I know what she is, and
she knows what I am."
The great curves of the hills stay peaceful and still
under the cropping of the cows, the grey mist is pulled,
imperceptibly by the branch, Bobby's voice is low, caressing the cows
who gather round him, or graze, some chewing their cuds, the little calf
I saw the other day can scamper now.
"This is good for them, they get used to you being around,
and then when you need to do something for them you can.
I know them - I've got cattle in my blood."
"I can watch them all day and all night, it don't bother me at all."
I stand around too, in the spell of his recounting -
the lives of individual cows, the color of each calf they've had, whether
they are nosey or shy, the story has no end -
the cattle, with their shaggy winter coats, seem ice-aged.
The chilly air bears down as we watch
the new calf get her legs, stand up and find the teat.
"Now she'll get some warm milk in her and warm her body up."
Soft, nearly whispered, the Keeper of the Herd observes
that all is well. I tell him that I've got to head back
to the house.
I walk a fallen limb over and Alf reswims
the branch, across the dimming field a hoot owl
from the dark woods. The Vaughts are buried at
the edge, and the soft-edged pulses of the sound
draw me to the graveyard fence. Many of the stones
are toppled, some fieldstones, ungraven, just stood up,
the lives they mark are somehow related
to my own
by the sodden ground, the farmer's spell,
and the sermon of the owl.