The Cows of Point Reyes

By Matthew Dickman

Because Laura was driving I was free        
to take pictures of the cows who looked so close
when I pushed down my index finger, making the camera
click.  Those slow giants, I thought
they'd come out glossy and huge like the tasteless
strawberries people grow in California,
but they didn't, they came out small like the wild ones
in Oregon, in someone's backyard
next to the tomato and rosemary.
This was along the coast, the cows with their souls
mooing away in their hearts
like the wind in old westerns
you might have seen when you were young and it forever shook
you to tears or made you love
someone you'd never known.  Those big-hearted cows,
black and white gods chewing the grass
of America, making mild or making meat
I don't know which, but making something there
on the hillside.  I was looking out
toward the ocean where the whales were hiding, orbiting
along some aquatic jet-stream like dark planets,
and I was looking into the rear-view mirror as well,
where Laura's eyes were looking at me, both of us
so close to the cows and the sea
at the same time, reminding me
where kindness is called Ahimsa
though it could be something else, something like red balloon
or an open hand.  I often take pictures of people or animals
so when they're gone I can remind myself
that they're real, that I have proven the unprovable fact
that not only do I have a heart
but it grows like a sentimental chrysanthemum
my parents planted in the seventies
while their friends were flying helicopters over what was left
of Saigon.  I don't know why
I miss the cows so deeply, why
when I look at the picture and they appear so small
I want to cry.  Loss is a funny thing to feel
when you never knew the thing you miss.  But I suppose
I loved the cows, my irrational heart
blowing open the doors of the schmaltzy saloon
where my feelings stay up late
drinking scotch, listening to old punk records,
which aren't even old                                                                            
in the fossil-universe-space-station we live in.
Maybe it was Laura making everything
sublime with her red hair doing crazy things, the window
rolled down, the salt in the air.
The night before we had driven down a little road
with the stars and the fences
and I knew I was living my life
there in the car, looking out
but not knowing if it was the ocean or the hills.
Sometimes, when you're driving in the dark
you can be anywhere, you can turn
the headlights off and bend toward hope and happiness and the good
stuff about death.  Death! My favorite kind
of fear. I think about it whenever I fly
and whenever something good happens I give it a little kiss.
If I were more like the cows
it wouldn't matter.  But it's good to be human and have
a little fear tucked away in some corner of my body,
in the orange bathtub at the B&B
where I had death hiding in my left hand,
where I brought the washcloth up
and felt the water running down her shoulders,
burning a candle in the room
and Laura in or out of her clothes.
I had never thought about the life
expectancy of cows or how they would make me feel
Elysian, that they would mean so much,
that I would even suffer
because of my great feelings for them or that I would dream about Laura
the night I came home, and in it
she would be sitting near me in a theater where we had gone to see
a movie about Sweden we both loved in different ways.


Matthew Dickman is the author of All-American Poem (American Poetry Review/ Copper Canyon Press, 2008). The recipient of The Honickman First Book Prize, The May Sarton Award from the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, the Kate Tufts Award from Claremont College, and the 2009 Oregon Book Award from Literary Arts of Oregon. His poems are forthcoming or have appeared in McSweeny’s, Ploughshares, The Believer, The London Review of Books, Narrative Magazine, and The New Yorker among others. Copper Canyon Press is publishing a book of poem-plays co-written with the poet Michael Dickman titled 50 American Plays in April of 2012. W.W. Norton & Co. will publish his third book, Mayakovsky’s Revolver, in fall of 2012. He is the poetry editor of Tin House Magazine. Matthew Dickman lives and works in Portland, Oregon.

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