I come in from the barn, hungry for words. They sing themselves all day in my mind, while the pitchfork rhythm lugs my shoulders into strong knots and the sun burns me brown. We mucked almost all of the barn in the past few days, moving sheets and snarls of shit, piles and piles of wet-brown straw and the winter's worth of four cows' shit into the pickup and back out onto the compost heap. And all the while, the words spin up and around and out. I come in from the barn, wash my hands, change my clothes, feed my belly, sit in front of the screen, and then there is quiet. The words are gone. I want to tell you about the calf running mad circles when we let him outside for the first time. I want to tell you about the full orange moon above the twilight hills, the feel of good work in my muscles, the wondering about that question of husbandry, of herdsmanship.
Is it always wrong to kill? Always cruel? A good life and quick death may be all we can ask for in this world; done right, fear need never enter into it. Can you make a trade for death? I'll have spent twelve hours and more just shoveling shit for these cows; I spend an hour or two every day on their care. Today, calf-deep in it, blistered and burnt, I thought yes, I'm going to eat these cows, and that's fair.
But my parents spent a lot of time on the care of me, and mostly nobody thinks that entitles them to my death.
I want to tell you how I love that calf. I've been told that I'm supposed to keep him afraid of me, but I don't buy it. Anyhow, I can't. And so far, he'll follow me around the pen, let me pick up his feet and clean them, let me pull the baling twine out of his mouth, let me clean the shit off his tail. I don't know what happens when he gets big - the yearlings are half-nice and half-stupid, but they weren't really socialized when they were smaller and I don't know that much about cow behavior. Sometimes they all crowd me into a corner and then, yeah: I want them to be afraid of me.
But the little guy? My baby cow?
I want to tell you about the robins, and the flies, and the soft evening smell of dirt road. I want to tell you about how utterly I sleep these days, how easily I wake. I want to tell you about my hunger, how much I've been wanting poetry and green leaves. I want to tell you everything, but I can't find the words.