“Why do you seek the living among the dead?”
What might have been a fallen star,
glittering in the distance
became the dreaded sight—
A heifer in trouble, calving.
But she was dead, still warm,
her uterus prolapsed: half its length
inside out, entwined with torn
a useless vision consigned
to heartache, awe and abandon
with all thought
But the calf
must still be inside.
How was he lodged,
what went wrong?
I tried to push in and find him;
but tides of flesh kept me out.
I cut across the tissues with my knife,
opened her, loosing a wash
of blood, removed
and set aside the mass,
reached in to
He must be out, I thought, rising
to walk in circles around her
searching clumps of grass for him—
drove toward cows in the distance,
noticed in the woods
a small, dark form,
soggy and disheveled,
nursing the knob of a tree,
sucking anything to connect
with this world.
I caught and bound and carried him
home and called on the phone
for someone to take him:
Do you want a red baby brahma bull?
Cousin Rob said he’d sworn off bottle-raising calves,
but a brahma bull—too much to resist.
Save him for me, he said,
I’ll be by.
In the pen, he sucked the boards, posts, climbed
through the shed, sucking things stored there;
sucked my hands, my pants, the gate as I tricked him
Colostrum, I thought,
is out there in her.
He won’t be worth a shit without it,
The old timers say.
I couldn’t go there again—but I couldn’t not go.
so I found the blue bucket on a shelf,
washed a cup and empty milk jug and
in ten minutes,
udder by udder,
I’m stripping out a dead cow
in the full light of day,
wondering who I am.
It comes cold with every grasp, hissing into the cup.
Fingers tired, I stop— add it to the jug,
continue, hands sticky, aching, keeping on
until there’s no more.
Warmed on the stove and poured in the bucket,
a minute later I’m coaxing a nipple into his mouth,
little teeth cutting me as I hold his muzzle,
squeeze his jaw open and shut till the rhythm catches
and soon he’s enlivened, autonomous,
tail wagging, tongue working,
swallowing the elixir
by Sean Sexton