Praise Song for the Cow Loose on Route 16 Going the Right Way

by James King



Praise that this is not the only time she’s done this.
That she’s planned each step over gravel
and never stumbles on her way
to the good grass. That,
among the farmers of this part
of the country, she has a reputation:
flight risk.

Praise the windshield that reflects her amble true,
a pair of teenagers pulling over,
not to kiss, but to watch.
Or the woman in the next car, who stops to write on Facebook
that she looks like a show horse.

Especially praise those who want to help her,
who think there’s some number to call,
a helpline for wayward bovines.
But when her grand weight slinks in the white weeds
past them, her tail a heavy sweep
across the golden tips of reeds,

and their eyes meet her great dark ones, they find
their milk-fed bones are not up to the task.

So praise the ones who wonder:
who here needs helping?

Yes—praise that beast purpose, and the lack
of care for the yellow plastic tag
punched through her ear’s thick cartilage.
What that day must have been—

when she was a calf and not yet calved herself:
the thickening blood, the shudder
in slender shoulders, shoulders that grew,
against that black number—yes, in spite of it—
like a list of allotted days.

Praise be that the day of the escape is, again,
killing day.

Praise the ones who realize
this is something you will have to do for yourself one day.



James King is a poet from New Hampshire and an MFA candidate at the University of North Carolina Wilmington. His short stories and poems have appeared in The Foundationalist, Humana Obscura, and High Shelf. His poem “Our Respective Squares” was the winner of the 2020 Academy of American Poets Prize from Dartmouth College, and his poem “Skating at Strawberry Banke” was a finalist in the 2023 NCSU Poetry Contest. He currently serves as managing editor of Chautauqua and as a coordinator for the UNCW Young Writers Workshop. He lives in Wilmington, North Carolina.

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