This really happened.


There is nothing like a Jersey
for personality
and good rich cream.
It flows from the teat
at the slightest persuasion,
yellow and warm,
a layer of fat at the top

of the milk rising
like all good things
as the fluid cools.
It smells of heat and clover,
sweet timothy hay
dried in the field.

Pressing your forehead
into that warm doe-flank,
at the swelled waist where the calf
formed before spilling forth
like the cork from Champaign,
you can feel her heart, mighty
and rhythmic, broken
by the occasional doglike cough.

You are vaguely worried
by the scratch on her hoof,
you can see where it burns
infected, spreading.
Jim said he trimmed
all the thorn trees in her field.
You jerk your knee, avoiding
her irritated hoof-clip.

The milk sloshes in the bucket,
the calf cries for its feed,
you carry the cheese-smelling
jug to the kitchen,
prepare the plunger
for the churn.

You send your cream-
whiskered boy down the hill
for the vet. The old man
comes in horse-drawn carriage,
a matched set of strong whites
that worry you,

they move so ghostlike,
so terribly quiet.
When he shakes your hand
you fret over the state
of your fingers,
so raw and chapped,
there is blood in the creases,
the cows and yours.

Doc Marshal hems and haws
in golden barnlight,
his downy hair
catching the motes.
He knocks his old fist
against the hollow
-sounding ribs,
listening for fluid caught
in pelt-swathed lungs.

Hums a bit, snaps
his suspenders.
‘Sounds like she’s
got something in her throat.’
The old man arcs a spume
of spent tobacco
across the hay-strewn boards.

You regret the mess
and resign yourself
to cleaning it, hating
the way your boy stares
at the frothy sputum
in what must be admiration.

You plan your talk.
The cream is in the churn,
ready for buttering,
the milk is in the pitcher,
waiting for lunch.
Jim will be home soon
and the vittles’ need fixing.

The old man strokes Bess
gentle across the throat.
‘Might be the Blackleg.’
He pries open her mouth,
green tinted teeth,
foam spittle, the scent
of gone milk.

‘Have to reach in to check it.’
He rolls up his sleeve and vanishes
to the elbow, grunting, finding nothing.
The vet cries on extraction,
a harsh mannish bark,
‘Bitch got me with her teeth.’

Wiping his hand on his shirtfront,
a thin streak of blood,
he shakes with you,
‘Well Mrs Williams,
I didn’t find anything.
It’s definitely not Blackleg.
Must be a cold. Watch her
good and keep her warm.’

‘Yes sir, we will.
You know how we need her.
She is our life.’
He nods at you, leaves
more brown on your boards,
drives off pulled
by his pair of whites.

You shiver at the sound
of dry wheels creaking,
the sound of the death-cart,
completely implacable.
You know and do not know
that you are waiting to die.


About Bethany W Pope

Bethany W Pope was named by the Huffington Post as ‘one of the five Expat poets to watch in 2016’. Nicholas Lezard, writing for The Guardian, described her latest collection as 'poetry as salvation'.....'This harrowing collection drawn from a youth spent in an orphanage delights in language as a place of private escape.' Bethany has won many literary awards and published several collections of poetry. Her first novel, Masque, was published by Seren in 2016. Her second novel, Ordinary Lives: The Ballad of John and Mary, was published in 2018. Follow her on Twitter @BethanyWPope

Posted on August 4, 2012, in Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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