We spied through the old dairy’s
as he came to this hay, gold with curing.
The barrel snaked, black, slowly past
the broken pane.
Now, close enough, beside the rubber teats.
Rifle, delicate in a farmer’s great hands,
a diviner’s rod, pulling
to the current: death whirling behind the eyes.
The steer dropped, dead
before his echo rattled and fell in the trees.
My father chopped, too dangerous for a child
— no blood shall touch a carcass —
and heaved the twitching gut,
kept dirt from the gleaming selvage.
His axe splitting the animal in two,
smack of cleaver through red and white
ceremony of meat. I, puny, useless,
throwing the bloated scraps
to our grinning, jumping cattle-dogs.
Stuffed them to stop them grinning
at the cleaver gone matter-of-fact
in a carcass, nothing but meat.
Always one. I swore against
the mosquitoes by the river, vines
tangling on my arms. There would be
fresh dung on a track, hoofprints
where stragglers went, loners
who stepped daintily over logs and roots
to reject the open ground.
I, stumbling and staring, would stop.
One steer, motionless
behind a tree. Invisible, almost.
I had walked past him, oblivious
but for this stop.
We waited in his haven of cunning:
branches touching, smell of mud rising
from the river banks.
I turned and saw
the sun nudge among the reeds
like a boat, drifting, empty.
Always the bunting chaos: calves
forcing through the gate,
their feet like hammers on my boots,
and milk from the bucket
pouring in the air, a fraying scarf
filled with the wind’s
white curve, the laws of feeding.
That slurp and suck of feeding.
I, like some old wrapped woman
who fostered them, and walked in a paddock
eccentric with wind; who was mobbed
by her children years later, Friesian and Shorthorn
sucking her fingers, rubbing, bunting
against her old hips; who would cry
like the season to see them.
© Philip Salom