We drive nails into the hooves, twist off
the horns with worn vise grips, separate mates,
pluck the tails, shave the wool, amputate
the balls, check carefully every wet cough,
hide the pincers inside the leather gloves
(the same soft leather used for critics’ shoes),
and eye the fluctuations in market news;
we pat the beasts that we really do love,
groom them tenderly for 4-H events,
eat spiced beef sandwiches and drink weak beer,
watch the authorities gauge the worth of our steers,
and visit the county fair’s gospel tent.

The music rises in the sweet summer air
as the beasts begin to speak, in some kind of Catholic
nativity, as they put on flesh, lick
each others’ wounds, and join with us, in prayer.

Articles by Craig Payne

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