(This poem was shortlisted in the Gloucestershire Poetry Society 2020 Open Poetry Competition)
It wasn’t much of a herding
Robert on his bike with a stick from the hedge
but the cows rolled home anyway, white-eyed
and manic, their rubber mouths dripping.
They lowed and shat, swung their udders
around bends, we thought they might topple.
All day on pasture, cropping and chewing
grass peppered with vetch, butter-cupped yellow
the bee heavy clover – and some grazed the hedge
took dog rose and elder, smacking their tails
against their fly-speckled legs. We felt pity and fear
skirted the edge with our heads bowed down
heard them heave and snort, paw up the ground
kept telling ourselves that we weren’t scared of cows.
In the cowshed at dusk
subdued in their cubicles, chewing the cud
we found maps on their backs, the quiver
of continents as they shifted their flanks
internal eruptions, acres of gas being farted
and belched. And sometimes we helped – spread straw
from the stack to soak up the piss, but there was always
the risk of a backward kick, still their jaws turned
and saliva dripped, and their udders kept filling
but they never got milked until morning.
We watched the farmer twist on the silvery cups
relaxed to the moan of the pump, sensed the let down
as each cow was drained, made light,
ready to race to the meadow again.