Hunkered down in a farmhouse
dimly lit, he listened to the tin-whistle
wind, the gusts taking the house
in their teeth, the sandy scutter
of snow. He knew better
than to wander beyond the wan
circle of the yard light, to go no farther
than the generator’s baritone drone.
But he is alone, and the cows
have come to haunt him. His cows—
he’d raised them all from the first cow
he’d led as a boy circling the sawdust ring,
scuffing up dust motes in the mercury vapor,
the bullhorn feeding back in his ears, in the sweat
and the flies of his first county fair. His cows—
he’d once lost four of them, the poor beasts
blind in a blizzard like this, they had stumbled
onto a frozen pond, and gone down
through its pale skin into the black.
He thought of the calves,
born early to mothers weakened
by cold and starvation, expelled
from the womb into a mantle of snow,
thin limbs thrashing in white powder,
lungs too young for frigid air.
They would be down in the woody draw,
in the copse of cedar and elm, not far from the road
half buried in drifts, slowly suffocating, frost
caking over their nostrils.
He knew better, but still he drove,
the truck’s bumper plowing snow
until he high-centered yards
from the gate. He broke through
drifts thigh-high, toward the dark bulk
of the trees, snow sanding his face.
Backs to the wind, half buried,
some down in the snow, they saw him,
the look in their simple eyes.
One by one they lurched to their feet,
and struggled toward him.
© by Chris Ellis