How to treat a dairy cow

By | 13 May 2024

Swap the number on her laser-printed electronic ear tag for a name.
Name her for something rare and precious, something
Earth has produced as a miracle. Emerald, say.
Name her without appropriation.

Consider her hourglass face. Her time hasn’t been her own.
Give her time, cow time, a good twenty-five years.
Let her decide how she spends it.

Admire the yin-yang of her coat, her long, appraising stare,
her eyes that take in light and all she’s seen, their secretive lashes.
Understand her blind spots.

Re-think your grammar: refuse lactations plural.
De-frenchify your lexicon. Lose the duplicity: if you eat it,
call it cow or calf, not beef or veal. Go further,

lose language altogether. Stand on all fours. Begin a day-long wait
on shit-slimed concrete to be hitched by your nipples to a machine.
Feel the stupefying cold make its way up through your legs,

between your hips, the skin slung between them like a collapsing tent,
and down your useless switchless tail, even as your full udder burns,
stretched and pendulous as a water-bomb, so swollen you have to straddle it.

Google udder size. You’ll find her genes are engineered for yield
and milkability. Next, search markers for chronic stress, tie stalls, zero-grazing
systems. Don’t trick her into thinking she’s outside.
Ditch her virtual reality mask.

Look elsewhere. Follow Denmark’s rulebook: install a tube-broom
scratcher and a salt-lick laced with molasses. She’ll know exactly
what to do with them. Watching her, you may see something of yourself:
a need for trust, for unselfconscious pleasure.

Think Sikh. Judge the moral quality of the State by its cow protection laws.
Summon Khamadhenu, fragrant one, cow of miraculous powers,
cow that fulfils all desires.

Campaign for bovine rights. Persist. Feel for those who tell you
you know nothing about her. They’re squeezed between the world
and their idea of the world.
Let her keep a calf.

Or, if her last has just been taken, take the risk. Find her an orphan.
You’ll be surprised how soon her eye-whites disappear,
her ears begin to slacken and hang backwards
as if they’re starting to come loose.

Turn off the let-down music. She needs to hear only danger
and the bleating of her calf. Listen to her low lowing when he strays.
Learn to differentiate her calls.

If all that’s too much to ask, do simply this: release her into pasture
with a tree to ruminate beneath and the company of her kind.
Expect nothing from her.

Now treat yourself. Go out on a cloudless night and stand
among the herd. Just you, stars, cows and the sound of tearing grass.

Note: ‘squeezed between the world and their idea of the world’ is from the poem ‘Spiritual Chickens’ by Stephen Dobyns.

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