Dreamy Willie and the Trinity of Cows
I was certain there would be a cloud and a burst of light
and God would bring the calf in the cloud out of the light.
—The Autobiography of William Butler Yeats
The field in the half-moonlight is a net of grasswater holding tepid light as if the stars
Had sent us their dead.
This was where the pale cow had staggered an hour before, ribs glossed to breaking
With long-held breaths,
Each exhalation sounding, to the boy, like her perturbed astonishment at finding herself
To be a cow after all.
The boy had come here to wait for God. Flat on his belly for two hours now, heartbeat huge
In the spindly rowboat of his ribs,
Now when the milk-light of evening and the milk-light of dawn chills to a Celtic blue
As exactly the skies ought to
Before their ancient maker steps down into the waiting world. He’d already
Rehearsed his embellishments
For the retelling, ready to say how God came with the calf in one ruddy, muscled arm
And a gleaming confusion
Of bilberries and apples cradled in the other, and how even the scrubby pines had
Choired mightily at the mystery . . .
As if to reproach the pagan embroidery of this reverie, the cow bawls out a warning,
Nose tipped back to a violet rent
In a bank of clouds above the pines, answering it with her own cumulus of mucus,
A thrilled, viscous heralding.
The boy’s body becomes all expectation, potential: the neat clockspring of a sprout
Packed in a seed-case.
He feels the benevolence of the flattened grass under him taking over his heart’s rhythm,
Dividing the labor
Between the thousandshare of their inchling respirations. The clouds sink
Closer to the earth.
Another bovine bawl, and her forelegs collapse beneath her in a sudden mea culpa.
(O for what transgressions
May a cow require absolution?) Her hindquarters follow suit, and her chuffing trunk is laid
Low, tail quirked and raised
In a hairy cursive loop, an oculus through which he may witness His coming.
At first, the boy, in his anxious audit
Of the treetops, misses the initial dilation, and the strange wet fist pressing
Itself out of her flesh.
But then a rude splutter end-stops the phrase of his anticipation, the noise too
Prolonged to be abrupt—
More like a lingering drawing-in of broth. There seems, at first, to be a sudden
The spectral thighs of the cow, but then the boy’s vision adjusts to horror:
The creature is pushing
A black, slick miniature of its own self out of its body, a sin-darkened incarnation
Which it chose
Only now to cast off. Or was the larger, alabaster animal the decorous cloister
From which the other
Was now wrenching itself? The blood on the white hide could mean
Anything. The cow
Rises to its feet again, the lanky forelegs of the other dangling down like clappers,
Its body all
Slippery joint and skin, a drowned tinker’s sack. The boy’s gone from closed
Fist to floating feather
Over a chasm: he’s dangling there with the creature above the ground, certain
Its hooves will split
Open the earth where they touch down. Suddenly, the head on each end
Of the heaving body turns,
Looking itself in the eye for the first time with a slow and liquid gaze, pouring
Into itself, two
Floods meeting in an abysmal muteness that is half erasure and half incarnation.
Then the golden light
Seizes them. The air fills with blood and milk and water.
His back feels warm.
The world behind him is already in flames.