All Night I’ve Been Hearing Them Softly Begin
They sound, at first, like far though fearful drumming,
Stamping the frosted ground.
They sway against the gate, a quiet rest, and then begin
With the force of a herd, though it is only a few of them.
The cows, moan after tired moan,
Calling. I had forgotten that sound—of the cows
Leaning against the gate with their sorrow, their heat.
But I remember, now, dreaming as a girl
Pulling through my lungs the heavy, cold songs of their loss
As my father approached from the shadows, their young
—With the strong harness of his palms,
And the darkness like a moonlit gun beside him.
The wind lowering to catch their song. How could I—
With the cows calling louder, now,
Through the meadow toward the house—dream
Of anything but a son, suddenly, walking beside me?
The cows’ eyes growing white
In the rising light. Like thieves my son and I approach
Them, hunched there all silver and towering like silos
In a field, or glistening in the dawn, the mountain
Of an abattoir. The thin, spotted skin of their udders
Swinging as they heave their song into the wind.
I can almost see the pureness of the milk they’re holding.
And how, before me holding my son, they sway
With the long, searching faces of mothers up all night
Waiting till the smokey dawn
For their stolen young to hear their wailing and come.
This is the living we’ve come to know, when,
almost every morning, flame
and heat thick enough to breech the silence
ember-eye us from the riverbank,
the some of us, still, who forage in the forest.
We crouch, mornings, in grassy medallions of sun,
filling with golden fruit our palms. And dream
of waking, once, to all Earth’s edges—
the tips of her branches, her petals curled
like a swan—and all the leaning rooftops slick
with morning frost. Still little towns like this
now dot the country like little abandoned relics.
And it’s there across the ridge, the smell
of another fire beginning to breathe and bridge.
With the wind, they glare and spread
across the Earth an angry, unfurling flush. Last night,
another rose and stumbled near where we huddle
in the deep stone, where little pools of water
gather at our feet. And this morning,
coming up on to the street, which shone
with what looked like snowfall—all the rooftops,
the—could it be?—frost in quiet repose
across their eaves and slopes—it was as though
I’d woken and everyone still was
asleep. The houses, though, were beneath a sheen
of ash. And in the rising fire-light
they looked the muted blue of veins seen through
the skin. The vein beyond the skin aflame.
Allison Donohue holds degrees from Virginia Tech, Texas Tech University and the University of Oregon. Her poetry has appeared in Crab Orchard Review, Hotel Amerika, The Minnesota Review and elsewhere.