The Cows on Killing Day

By Les Murray b. 1938 Les Murray
All me are standing on feed. The sky is shining.

All me have just been milked. Teats all tingling still   
from that dry toothless sucking by the chilly mouths   
that gasp loudly in in in, and never breathe out.

All me standing on feed, move the feed inside me.
One me smells of needing the bull, that heavy urgent me,   
the back-climber, who leaves me humped, straining, but light   
and peaceful again, with crystalline moving inside me.

Standing on wet rock, being milked, assuages the calf-sorrow in me.
Now the me who needs mounts on me, hopping, to signal the bull.

The tractor comes trotting in its grumble; the heifer human   
bounces on top of it, and cud comes with the tractor,   
big rolls of tight dry feed: lucerne, clovers, buttercup, grass,   
that’s been bitten but never swallowed, yet is cud.
She walks up over the tractor and down it comes, roll on roll   
and all me following, eating it, and dropping the good pats.

The heifer human smells of needing the bull human   
and is angry. All me look nervously at her
as she chases the dog me dream of horning dead: our enemy   
of the light loose tongue. Me’d jam him in his squeals.

Me, facing every way, spreading out over feed.

One me is still in the yard, the place skinned of feed.   
Me, old and sore-boned, little milk in that me now,   
licks at the wood. The oldest bull human is coming.

Me in the peed yard. A stick goes out from the human   
and cracks, like the whip. Me shivers and falls down
with the terrible, the blood of me, coming out behind an ear.   
Me, that other me, down and dreaming in the bare yard.

All me come running. It’s like the Hot Part of the sky   
that’s hard to look at, this that now happens behind wood   
in the raw yard. A shining leaf, like off the bitter gum tree   
is with the human. It works in the neck of me
and the terrible floods out, swamped and frothy. All me make the Roar,
some leaping stiff-kneed, trying to horn that worst horror.
The wolf-at-the-calves is the bull human. Horn the bull human!

But the dog and the heifer human drive away all me.

Looking back, the glistening leaf is still moving.
All of dry old me is crumpled, like the hills of feed,   
and a slick me like a huge calf is coming out of me.

The carrion-stinking dog, who is calf of human and wolf,   
is chasing and eating little blood things the humans scatter,   
and all me run away, over smells, toward the sky.

Les Murray, “The Cows on Killing Day” from Subhuman Redneck Poems. Copyright © 1997 by Les Murray. Used by permission of Farrar, Straus & Giroux, LLC, www.fsgbooks.com. All rights reserved. Caution: Users are warned that this work is protected under copyright laws and downloading is strictly prohibited. The right to reproduce or transfer the work via any medium must be secured with Farrar, Straus and Giroux, LLC.

Source: Learning Human (Farrar Straus and Giroux, 1998)

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Poet Les Murray b. 1938

POET’S REGION Australia and Pacific

Subjects Relationships, Pets

Poetic Terms Free Verse

 Les  Murray

Biography

Australian poet Les Murray grew up in poverty on his grandparents’ farm in Bunyah, New South Wales, a district he moved back to with his own family in 1985. The recipient of numerous honors for his poetry, he has published collections including The Ilex Tree (with Geoff Lehmann, 1965) and Dog Fox Field (1990), both winners of the Grace Levin Prize for poetry; Subhuman Redneck Poems (1996), winner of the T.S. Eliot Prize for . . .

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Poem Categorization

SUBJECT Relationships, Pets

POET’S REGION Australia and Pacific

Poetic Terms Free Verse

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Originally appeared in Poetry magazine.

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