Samantha Leigh Futhey is currently an M.F.A. candidate in the Creative Writing and Environment program at Iowa State University. She has poetry published in RHINO Poetry (under the name Samantha Leigh), Rust +Moth and forthcoming in Roanoke Review.
Healthy, she’d shy from my hand.
But the cow and I sit together,
stained with muck, her brain fizzling
magnesium misfires, calcium depleted
for the calf who cries for her teats
and tries to nurse my thighs. Sweet Pea
doesn’t care that I stroke her,
pluck at muddied straw plaited
in her auburn hair. Her legs
straighten against her will, eyes
glossed. A beard, foamy and white,
rims her mouth. She heaves her breaths,
the unexpected price of her labor.
She gives too much of herself; I give
nothing but human cooing. It’s easy
to forget the danger of birth, forget the body
makes decisions without discussion, unfolds
to illness without forewarning. When my sister
giving birth says I can’t do it, my mother says,
yes you can, and when Sweet Pea sways,
saying I can’t do it, my father says,
yes you can, plunging a needle in her neck,
funneling minerals and calcium to replenish
her udder, the bulging sack once
a small pocket tucked between her legs,
pink and eager with the adolescence my sister
and Sweet Pea relinquished. Unable
to understand this foreign place they live in,
I walk away, as their children surround them,
milk prickling their babies with need.
Broods of beetles spring from the ground as she
splits apart, the slickness of her blood reforming
into her fur and bone miniature. She hovers
around her calf, nuzzles urgency
for the newly born to suckle milk.
But her body is not her own, nor the calves
that spill from her. All night, they call
to each other, a steady current
flowing across fields and gates. In the barn,
mice scamper with their young. Swallows yolk
fledglings to their wings. Is it too much to ask
for eternity spent in grass, hooves
tucked under belly, her daughter’s musk
of wet earth in her nose? By morning,
mother and daughter croak their cries.
Every season, mothers remember
their one obligation, offer children
and their liquid gold, relearn the art
of forgetting. And if mother
and daughter meet again, they won’t
sit together, but give each other
side glances. The younger will charge ahead—
her hooves fling rocks, striking her mother’s ankles.