Old Cow Museum
Like soldiers from the front, they come hobbling—
veterans of time’s war—dragging limbs, comporting
brokenness—shambling on to assemble at the trough.
The heifer with a turned back foot is always in the lead,
maimed in calf-hood in a bovine crush, and culled
from the August load to stow here, unsalable, where
she’s grown and got bred out of season when a Brahma
bull spirited in and fertilized her like Danae.
The elderly blind dam smells her way to feed—outpaced
by the throng. We can’t send her to market—that maze
opened on the trailer door as grim as her own labyrinth
—where and how would she go? They’d foot us a bill
for the pathetic parody played out. Here she stays until
death closes her paddock of memory: every shallow and rise
branch, and barb relearned again in her daily trace unless
she must follow her ear—or reckon the air.
Time stands still in the Old Cow Museum, time present, time
past that empties and fills the wombs of calf streams. Time of no
season, no accounting as the daily orb arrives to no consequence.
Where the crippled brahma that can’t make it down the lane, glows
in the distance like a cumulonimbus over the Bahamas. She
calved, her first year in captivity, whelp—slight as her udder—
melted into the woodwork soon as we caught sight of him.
Here she stays, barren augury of an unspoken beatitude—
violating every scruple of cattle-breeding—companion
to the arthritic angus matron bought one year in the Carolinas
at the end of a sale. Attrition could be her name as she struggles
to her portion like your grandmother through the aisles of the grocer,
cries loudest when Sunday’s brunch must wait ‘til after church.
And every calving season orphans emerge—
to count among the world’s brood, be added in:
the first timer’s get she wouldn’t own, an unclaimed twin,
Daughter of the cancer-eye cow that withered away two
months shy of the wean, a listless starveling of the fretful
Madonna of the swollen teats—taken and given to shoulders
and wits, and wastrel whose mammy up and died mid-winter,
she—wild as a snake—to be gotten out and finessed into this
house of mishap; anyone in this business needs what they contain:
an out of the way place, quelling grain, and peace of ancient dames.
At the end of suffering there is a door.
And some bright morning, we’ll find another gone off to the unfenced
field, a shadow curled beneath a bough: collect of leather and bone,
gather of manure, birds already there. And what we’d always taken
for the wind, an unceasing benediction.
Sean Sexton was born in Indian River County and grew up on his family’s Treasure Hammock Ranch. He divides his time between managing a 700-acre cow-calf and seed stock operation, painting, and writing. He has kept daily sketch and writing journals since 1973. He is author of Blood Writing, Poems (Anhinga Press, 2009), The Empty Tomb (University of Alabama Slash Pine Press, 2014), Descent (Yellow Jacket Press, 2018), and May Darkness Restore, Poems (Press 53, 2019). He has performed at the National Cowboy Poetry Gathering in Elko, Nevada, Miami Book Fair International, Other Words Literary Conference in Tampa, Florida, and the High Road Poetry and Short Fiction Festival, in Winston Salem, North Carolina. He is nominated for a Pushcart Prize and received a Florida Individual Artist’s Fellowship in 2001. He is a board member of the Laura Riding Jackson Foundation, Lauraridingjackson.org, and founding event chair of the Annual Poetry and Barbeque held each April, now in its tenth year. He also co-founded Poetry and Organ Advent and Lenten Concert Series at Community Church in Vero Beach, Florida, ccovb.org, featuring nine concerts annually, attracting poets from all over the United States. He became inaugural Poet Laureate of Indian River County in 2016.