Steers in Winter

Christmas day we played the savior.
Overnight ice swallowed anything
close to green, and then the north wind
set in to freeze. From the high barn window,

we saw the cattle in the bottomground
standing church-pew still, dumb, fat,
stupid, but mostly stunned with what
must’ve seemed a horrid pale apocalypse.

We loaded bales on a flatbed wagon,
shot a tractor’s nose full of ether,
and skidded down the lane to the pasture.
We thawed the chain with language and a hatchet.

Those Angus steers stood quiet as the damned.
Even when we slit the orange twine
and kicked out sheaves, they stood like stones,
too cold to believe in the grace of hay.

:: William Jolliff, in West Branch #54

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