Winter 2005
Volume 5, Number 1

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the cows come back

once if I remember well
my grandfather scolded me
only once —
he was dying of cancer

he was a mild-mannered man
an Amishman, a pacifist
but when I drove the cows out to pasture
at milking time
he like totally lost it

he raised his voice and scolded me
in Pennsylvania Dutch
dialect curses
and in English too
some of which I understood

I had driven the cows back out to pasture
after they assembled for milking time
an irregular ragged huddle
around the barn door
the barn door with its faded ancient hexes

in my defense, I was very young
and my older cousin Philip put me up to it
we tossed pebbles at the fat Holsteins
and shouted “Co-boss! Co-boss!”
like our grandfather had taught us

shepherding them slowly back out to pasture
the way they moved, a majestic waddle,
inspired a sense of precocious sexual power in me
dawdling big-hipped behemoths
obeying my will

a city kid, on the farm for the day
I sensed some of the archaic wonder
of the primeval herder’s life
maneuvering these extraordinary beasts
down the muddy lane

the cattle lowed in protest
they knew something was wrong
their udders full
it was milking time, dammit
but they obeyed

and my grandfather scolded me
it wasn’t a curse
but it certainly wasn’t a blessing
I could tell by the way the “Ach!”
grated, deep in his throat

when he came out to milk them
and found his grandchildren
back at the barn
proud of our accomplishment
(although Philip was smirking)

Grandpa knew immediately
our crime
and scolded us
I was abashed
I was only five, and a visitor on the farm

he limped back to the far pasture
shooing us before him
puffing and haranguing
in Pennsylvania Dutch
I doubt that he cursed us

he was a mild-mannered man
an Amishman and a pacifist
dying of cancer
he showed us the way to turn the herd
bring them in for milking

now in the city again
but fifty years later
I hear the cows coming back
the raccoons and possums and deer
reclaiming the back yards

the weeds growing up over the fence
a flash of lavender, goldenrod, ragweed
autumnal hum and haze of insects
and the deep-throated rumbling
as the cows come back

—Ross L Bender lives in West Philadelphia. He has published articles, poetry and reviews in numerous magazines, including With, Forum, and Mennonite Quarterly Review as well as many now defunct, such as The Mennonite (old General Conference Mennonite Church version), Gospel Herald, Mennonot, The Builder, Festival Quarterly, and The Other Side. His website at features “Crazy Mennonite”, a memoir in progress, and “Rosannadanna of the Amish.”


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