Once my cousin made me watch a cow for hours.
If we eat meat, he said, we’ll be that sluggish, dull.
I ate no meat for years; it was too late for reason.
My best friend loved a cow; she named it Gracie.
The truck came, lured it to slaughter. She called and called.
The cow would not turn back. She made of this her song.
Once, we named her goat after a boy
who shared its earnestness, the shape of its face.
From time to time we say we should have married
this goat-faced boy, married for kindness.
We were girls with raven hair and secrets we gutted
with kitchen tools.
Peach faced, and open as a lake,
we liked to trail the fenceline with no shoes,
laughter so young, it cut through ruin,
though I never knew my point, a girl starstruck on grackles,
too soon tutored in the hex of bounty taken back. I rammed
my girlmind underneath black wings flecked in bronze.
Girls like hummingbirds I shunned, myself a squat chickadee.
Those like sparrows, with their subtle shifts of distinction,
drew me in. Hawks I kept my distance from.
Devotion I learned from those who made demands,
girls who bathed in milk and danger,
edged their desire up against my throat.
The repulsion I felt for the neighbor boy still lives.
I see the spongy yellowed teeth, that odd toe so plump
for a delicate child. He liked to beat the trees with belts.
I followed, until my mother said no more.
At a hayride we kids passed a flask of booze.
I covered up with a boy I half knew, would not lock eyes with,
but he was smooth moon and the rough mark of hay.
Young mouths are stitched, or they bellow like a river.
The past, a cow barreling for desire, goats bearing their own scent.
Looking back, I love.
Now we scrub ourselves, cover one smell with another.
Failed children, we gather on a hilltop, answering the rain.
from Rattle #75, Spring 2022
Tara Bray: “For the last two decades I’ve spent a lot of time writing poems inspired by my time in nature, yet for this poem I returned to my childhood as subject matter. I picked up some scraps of a poem written in my late twenties and early thirties, and expanded a bit, coloring the older work with some of what I’ve noticed in the meantime. The birds that I love to write about and have written so much about for years now still managed to make their way into the poem. I like that it contains snippets from various points in time and yet holds together somehow.”