November 19th, 2006

ozarque figure

Cattle poem note...

In a comment about that cattle poem I posted, livredor says "I don't totally understand this poem..."
I'm sure I don't totally understand it either; I don't have total access to my subconscious mind any more than anyone else does. But I do know a few things about it, and about what I was trying to say when I wrote it.

First, there's what the bull says:
"Where did my pampas go?
Who took my prairie?
Where are all my lissome loving heifers
and their knowing mothers?"

It has always seemed to me that bulls are really wild animals rather than domestic ones, and that they must all be thinking "How the blazes did I -- a bull! -- end up here in this dinky little pasture, with a fence around me??!" This is the rankest sort of anthropomorphizing, no question about it, but it's my perception of the situation. And I am not impressed by all the local farmers who chuckle at me and tell me their bulls are as "as gentle as a kitten." Uhuh. They know -- and I know that they know -- that you always keep a wary eye on your bulls, even the ones you've raised from their infancy and maybe fed with a bottle. Because every now and again a bull that has always been gentle just decides he's had it, and turns on you and does his very best to kill you. The bull in my poem is thinking about what he's entitled to, and what he's having to settle for in its place.

The rest of the poem, for me, is about cattle as art. As living, moving sculpture. When I was a child, people around me had herds of cattle, but they weren't beautiful. There'd be thirty or forty cows/steers/bulls of a single breed, all looking just alike, all lean and -- to my phobia-warped perceptions -- mean. All scruffy-looking. Nothing there to make you stop and stare. And there are commercial farms in the area where I live today that have herds like that -- a huge field with two or three hundred undifferentiated Black Angus standing in it. Just a field full of meat, standing there. The individual cattle in those herds are bigger and shinier than the cattle of my childhood, but I don't feel any urge to stand and look at them.

The herds of cattle on the small family farms all around me are a different thing entirely. They just take my breath away. Seeing them is like seeing an art exhibit. All different kinds of cattle, all different colors, all sorts of different patterns, mixed up together. Just the shapes of their heads and the curves of their horns take my breath away, they're so beautiful. Some with curly coats, some with straight coats, and all of them as sleek as if they'd just come from a groomer. Such big beautiful eyes, with long lashes. Such elegant poses! The local farmers want a herd they can show off, and they bring in exotic breeds from all over the world; it's not unusual to see twenty different breeds, all different colors and patterns and shapes and horn-configurations, in a herd of forty.

I suppose these small herds are in some ways pets more than they're meat on the hoof; when one of those cattle has to be sold, it hurts. You can go into any cafe, any day of the week, and hear at least one man or woman talking about how "it damn near killed me" to sell one of their cattle. They're sensible people. If an animal turns out to be vicious, or it accidentally jumps a fence and learns The Truth About Fences and can never be kept in by a fence again, or if it's a choice between the animal and a college tuition payment for one of the kids, they sell the animal. But it hurts.

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