“My Grandmother’s Cow” by Maya Jewell Zeller

Maya Jewell Zeller


My grandmother didn’t have a cow,
but if she did, it would have been a Holstein,
cross-bred with a Friesian, because
good Marguerite herself was slim but sturdy
and beautiful in black-and-white. And because
she was Catholic, it would have been
a dairy cow; it would have sustained
her eight children’s dietary needs
for calcium, would have driven
Kenneth nuts, would have lived
in the backyard where the squirrel he always
wanted to shoot threw down acorns
from the oak tree. It would have tangled
in the clothesline, the only thing which still
might seem wild. My mother would have had
to come outside early, while the sun still licked
its long pink tongue across the gray rooftops
of 40th Place, and help that cow unwind
from the ropes which held her. And like my mother,
this cow would have looked longingly
at the neighbors’ weedy lawn, would have
found a break in the fence and snuck
through it to a world less orderly, where
thistle sprung up through the daisies,
where she could gaze from earth through trees
to see her own freckled chunks of blue
sky framed in green. My mother didn’t dream
of cows, I don’t think, in Des Moines, Iowa,
where they kept the park pond stocked
with bluegill. But what does it matter? She
was dreaming. She was dreaming.
And on the other side of that dream
is her daughter, her spine to the dirt
beneath plums. She knows
there is something other than high tide
making the river go backwards
like a slough, something besides fruit
flies and edible weeds. She can hear
the beasts move between barbed wire
and river, their hides stinking, eyes wet.

from Rattle #34, Winter 2010

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