A calf had slipped the loose-strung wire,
and the herd in committee milled close
as if to reabsorb him, a mercury drop.
Small, dark, tufted boy,
eyes like clean leadlights.
He stared, the bald, fearing,
hating way a child of eight will stare
at a stranger, careless of offence.
Always you think a cow is about to
speak, give up the pretence of
thick-tongued chewing, of middle-distanced eye,
and focus—the way an acquaintance
at a bus stop will blink and suddenly
see you—and utter
something. As if you met a wild woman,
come down from a long stay upon
a wooded hill—hair grown brush-thick to the waist,
dirt laid on the grease of the skin
till it burnished to permanence
—still you would look in her strange eye and see
knowledge, and you could have words,
the meeting of knowing-speaking minds.
Thinking to help, I took a step.
A great mother cow
stretched her tufted neck
curdling, sound like metal
torn from metal, the others joining
as if burning alive. A whole room of people
refusing to know me, like some
Belinda Rule’s work has appeared extensively in Australian journals and anthologies. She thanks Bundanon Trust for the residency where she alarmed and was alarmed by the cows featured in ‘Exile’.