© By Paul Muldoon
for Dermot Seymour
Even as we speak, there’s a smokers cough
from behind the whitethorn hedge: we stopped dead in our tracks,
a distant tingle of water into a trough.
In the past half-hour—since a cattle truck
all but sent us shuffling off this mortal coil—
we’ve consoled ourselves with the dregs
of a bottle of Redbreast. Had Hawthorne been a Gael,
I insist, the scarlet A on Hester Prynne
would have stood for “Alcohol.”
This must be the same truck whose taillights burn
so dimly, as if caked with dirt,
three or four hundred yards along the boreen
(a diminutive form of the Gaelic bóthar, “a road,
”from bó, “a cow,” and thar
meaning, in this case, something like “athwart,”
“boreen” has entered English “through the air”
despite the protestations of the O.E.D.):
why, though, should one taillight flash and flare
to an afterimage of tourmaline
set in a dark part-jet, part-jasper or -jade?
That smoker’s cough again: it triggers off from drumlin
to drumlin an emphysemantiphon
of cows. They hoist themselves onto their trampoline
and steady themselves and straight away divine
water in some far-flung spot
to which they then gravely incline. This is no Devon
cow-coterie, by the way, whey-faced, with Spode
hooves and horns: nor are they the metaphysicattle of Japan
that have merely to anticipate
scoring a bull’s-eye and, lo, it happens
these are earth-flesh, earth-blood, salt of the earth,
whose talismans are their own jawbones
buried under threshold and hearth.
For though they trace themselves to the kith and kine
that presided over the birth
of Christ (so carry their calves a full nine
months and boast liquorice
cachous on their tongues), they belong more to the line
that’s tramped these cwms and corries
since Cuchulainn tramped Aoife.
Again the flash. Again the fade. However I might allegorize
some oscaraboscarabinary bevy
of cattle there’s no getting round this cattle truck,
one light on the blink, laden with what? Microwaves? Hi-fis?
Oscaraboscarabinary: a twin, entwined, a tree, a Tuareg
a double dung-beetle a plain
and simple hi-firing party an off-the-back-of-a-lorry drogue?
Enough of Colette and Céline, Céline and Paul Celan:
enough of whether Nabokov
taught at Wellesley or Wesleyan.
Now let us talk of slaughter and the slain,
the helicopter gunship, the mighty Kalashnikov:
let’s rest for a while in a place where a cow has lain.
© Paul Muldoon, permissons Faber & Faber Ltd.
Paul Muldoon, speaking about this poem in an interview said: “In ‘Cows’, you have to determine how to read the word “mighty”. You might say that the Kalashnikov has been quite mighty however much one would want to disbelieve that. But I think it’s probably more ironic.”