Jan/Feb 2020 Poetry

Three Cows Staring at a Dead Coyote

by John Leonard

Borrowed image

Three Cows Staring at a Dead Coyote

It starts with a sort of prayer or letter:

Dear God,

How can it be so hot this early in the morning?
How can it be so late into the summer...
the end of August already?

Evening rain has turned dawn into steam.
There's a heaviness to each of our breaths,
a weighted muffle in the air that invades
our lungs and dampens our hearing, slows
the bird calls and hurries the insect choirs,
casts a silver blur on everything far away.

The color of your face matches the color
of the sun outside of the window.

Ghosts rise through the soil in the fields,
rise through the ceilings of this house,
rise through our bed and rise through you,
consecrated by the apocalypse of your dreams.

You whisper for me to wake,
but I'm only pretending to sleep.

Something in the pasture doesn't feel right, you say.
You say, the new calf could be injured, could be dying.
You tell me how you dreamed of a cow skull made of dust,
how it swallowed a nearby city and carried all the children away.
It's all the things you don't say that make me roll over.

I venture out, eyes still blurry with sleep, and the thick air
drags itself across my skin, drawing channels of sweat
from my forehead. The cows remain still as I approach,
almost like statues of cows, flyless now for the first time
since summer began, and somehow more hallowed.

They stare down at a lifeless coyote, this new host of insects.
A snapped rib pokes out from her blood-soaked side.
The early sun heats the backs of the cows and casts layers
of shadows over the small corpse.

I ask myself if their curiosity is drawn from fear or sympathy.
Do they think it's a rouse on the coyote's part; that she will
spring up, suddenly alive, and snap at their startled legs?

What are the cows waiting for, so still and intent;
their bodies present and their eyes unnaturally aware?

I turn to get your take on the scene...
you, who are now standing next to me after braving the heat,
after braving the field crickets and end-time prophesies.

You whisper, they're looking for its soul, and your words race
from your mouth like the excited calls of the other coyotes;
the ones who are hunched in the brush near the edge of the forest,
hungry and waiting for the cows to leave, while the cows wait
for you and me to finally end their vigil with another prayer—

If we see her again, we'll see her bones.



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