The moon was like a full cup tonight,
too heavy, and sank in the mist
soon after dark, leaving for light
faint stars and the silver leaves
of milkweed beside the road,
gleaming before my car.
Yet I like driving at night
in summer and in Vermont:
the brown road through the mist
of mountain-dark, among farms
so quiet, and the roadside willows
opening out where I saw
the cows. Always a shock
to remember them there, those
great breathings close in the dark.
I stopped, and took my flashlight
to the pasture fence. They turned
to me where they lay, sad
and beautiful faces in the dark,
and I counted them – forty
near and far in the pasture,
turning to me, sad and beautiful
like girls very long ago
who were innocent, and sad
because they were innocent,
and beautiful because they were
sad. I switched off my light.
But I did not want to go,
not yet, nor knew what to do
if I should stay, for how
in that great darkness could I explain
anything, anything at all.
I stood by the fence. And then
very gently it began to rain.
~Hayden Carruth “The Cows at Night”
All my life I’ve lived near cows,
sitting on a bony Guernsey back
while my father leaned in close to a warm flank
to rhythmically coax milk into a metal bucket.
I’d teach a tail-switching calf to drink from a pail
by leading its mouth, sucking my fingers,
down to the milky froth.
There were always cows out back,
or in the woods,
or across the road,
or on the road,
or following the winding path
or eventually in the freezer,
their great heads bobbing and curious,
ears waggling, tails swiping,
their sand paper tongues
licking clean each moist nostril.
So much is simpler for a cow~
a meadow of dewy grass, and full udders
awaiting the relief of the calf or the milker’s hands.
Maybe this is why I ruminate on life
chewing my cud on what was and is, just
waiting for the next thing to happen.