In the shade of a corner apple tree
they gather after morning milking
for daily ruminations. Slowly
they groan to the ground,
these assemblies of ill-fitting lumber
and backward knees, and the earth
receives their mass as if they were no more
than heavy thoughts or falling apples.

I take my two-year-old to visit them;
I think there is something he has to learn
and can learn from cows alone.
He loudly moos, but no one is fooled
and the great beasts sink like ships
toward a heavy, deep-green slumber.

I remember my grandfather's cows
as they came in from the hot fields
and entered the barn's darkness
single-file and orderly,
bearing their gifts beneath them.
I stood by the door in the reek
of manure and silage and counted them,

passing my hand across their haunches,
bones barely hidden by hide.
Grandfather announced cows like debutantes
and I learned their names — Jenny, Patchwork,
Rosie, Glenda, Mrs. Jane — and later,
all my grandpa's tin-ear tunes
which kept the measure of the hot, blue milk
rising in the pail.

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