The bull was large and white and mean.
My father was even more so.
I was a child, perched behind him
on the hot, black tractor seat in the summer.
The bull was rank with musk and foam,
its horns bared at our wheels.
I thought it meant to flip us,
machine, round hay bale, and all.
I remember screaming. I think it was then
my father leapt to the ground.
I saw him make a fist of sorts, tucking
his third and fourth finger under his thumb.
The two fingers left pointing out
mocked bull’s horns on his sweaty brow.
I didn’t understand my father,
didn’t know what he was doing.
Look in the eye, he said,
hunching over, one boot kicking dirt.
The bull bellowed, shiny chords
of mucus stretching from its nose.
It raked its hooves in the earth
and false charged my father, stopping short.
You’ve got to mean it, my father said
holding his ground, then walking closer,
and closer still until they breathed
the same hot, wet air.
They stayed that way a long time,
man and bull looking eye to eye.
I don’t remember now what broke
the look, if it was anything at all
or if the bull simply lowered its head
at last and backed away.
I don’t know what he was teaching me,
what he wanted me to learn.
All I could do was watch him,
standing there, horns bared.
—from Rattle #77, Fall 2022
Cortney Esco: “I always thought I would just be a fiction writer. But when I feel like I can’t write anything, I find myself writing poetry. When I think I can’t feel anything, I find myself feeling poetry. A lot of writing lives in my head, comes and goes when it’s ready, but poetry lives in my heart, always.”