Self-Portrait with Cow
So, when they ask about the cow,
I tell them, yes, someone took a cow,
cut a hole in her side and lined it
with some kind of rubber or latex,
and now people can stick their hands
in her side and feel the stomachs
churning, gurgling cogs in a milk machine.
Penn State keeps the cows in the Ag labs.
The four men I am waiting on
look collectively disturbed, and the oldest man
the one with the sideburns and the ten percent tip
look to him, shakes his head slowly,
chews his tongue like he wants to say
something, and finally asks it:
So—how do you get her to let you
stick your hand in her side?
Well, I tell him, you take her out
to dinner, treat her real nice…
I told my sister-in-law about the cow
and now she and my hairdresser
have hatched a plan between them
to save the poor bovine, to take her
to some field where she won’t be bothered.
But my sister-in-law is a scientist
and decides the cow needs more protection,
a cork. What if the latex should tear?
Rubber skin does not re-sew itself.
My sister-in-law wants to cover the cow,
give her some sort of hole cozy, a patch
like Captain Hook, a bovine chastity belt,
and put her somewhere that she can be seen
maybe, but not molested.
My hairdresser wants to sew the cow back up.
Make her forget that her insides ever saw the light
of day, that any fingers ever crept inside her,
circling her flesh through the thin rubber.
After that, she doesn’t really know what she wants,
maybe solitude for the cow, a dark room
and a fainting couch. Name the thing Camille,
let her waste away in the dark arms
of melodrama and a black and white movie.
I tell my biologist friend that I’m writing this poem,
and does she remember the cow and what
would she do with her? She just keeps saying
it’s disgusting. What possible science
could a hole in a live cow be serving? I asked
if it served science, would it be okay?
She said yeah. I keep imagining this saintly cow
giving it up to the masses, letting school kids
wriggle their fingers inside her like Halloween games.
Putting your hands inside is like certain games,
like reaching out in the darkness, like pin the tail
on the donkey from the inside out, you’re the winner.
Go inside the cow,
that would be my way. Check the ceiling
of the stomachs for lists of things to do,
for letters from friends, fripperies,
a giggle maybe, a deep sound
that reverberates in stomach after stomach,
a little girl sound that bursts from her body
when I lift her cover.
Self-Portrait with Cow first appeared in Barrow Street , Summer 2003.
Poem, copyright © 2003 by Camille-Yvette Welsch
Appearing on From the Fishouse with permission
Audio file, copyright © 2006, From the Fishouse