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Charolais Bum

by Andy Fahlgren, '14

The last calf had been born dead, so
Dad headed into town to buy a bum.
The momma cow stood guard at the spot
where she dropped her quiet little thing,
bellowing hoary lows to the ice-white sun.
Her calf is gone, disposed of quickly,
so that she might adopt a new son
or daughter and not know the difference.
And Dad can buy one at the stockyards almost
as easy as a bag of cake
or a block of salt.

But a rifle shot greets him in the parking lot,
a gigantic sound that shivers the morning frost
from off the heavy corral planks.
Some old cow wasn't going to make it,
but her unborn still had a chance.
So: the rifle. Now: a knife.
And in the chute a man frantically cuts through
the swollen hide of the freshly-dead cow.
A woman nearby with a watch
counts the time aloud.
Dad steps up to help and slips one hand

And then the calf is free.
It steams in their hands amidst
the steam from the open belly
and the steam from the men's own breath.
But the calf does not move.

The man with the knife
drives a long piece of straw up its nose
to reach some deep and ancient center.
The animal snorts, twists, and is now alive,
is now a kittenish white Charolais mewling
for something dear.
Dad cradles it over to the car
and swaddles it in an old blanket in the trunk.
The three of them linger there against the car
while the woman nurses the calf
with a bottle of warm colostrum.
"If it lives," she says, "you can come back
and pay us fifty dollars."