A Hunger

(Tuam, County Galway) 

The farmer comes home late from the pub
his one evening free from work,
and finds what he feared, the heifer sick,
one hoof jutting from the straining rump,
the other turned back inside the womb--
as if the calf had lost its way,
nature itself unsure of the path.

It's no miracle, as he rolls his sleeve,
then plunges his arm, elbow deep, into the cow,
shifts the limb, a difficult gear, into place.
Now, he tightens the knotted rope around both,
and pulls until the shocked face emerges,
then spreads the opening wider, his hands
bristling with blood and water,
while the beast drones its low, unhuman cry.

Mastery is nothing but perfection of habit,
years on an unwanted farm, nursing cows,
nursing the mother who begged him to stay,
sentencing him to his blank inheritance,
until what tumbles into straw is an afterthought,
the moment spilling into absence--
What I do is not done out of love;
in such loneliness I carry my dead.

Later, after the mother licks the new calf clean,
and it starts to hobble on its spindly legs,
he will guide it to the tit, the dumb mouth
sucking anything, even the bloody sac
that hangs deceptively behind the tail
and, if eaten, could kill.

:: Daniel Tobin, Where the World Is Made (1999)

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