Hear Steven Kleinman read with Warren Longmire and Christina Rosso at the next E-Verse Equinox reading. More details here.
“Cows” by Steven Kleinman
In certain sections of the city
they roamed free. They walked in
and out of parks ignoring curfews.
We made new signage. They broke
those rules too. They created
traffic issues, scared mothers,
no one knew what to do.
This morning I had one at work.
I thought, at first, what a nice
distraction. Something to do
between trips to the water cooler.
I thought to make friends with it.
That’s the thing to do, I thought,
patting myself on the back each time
it opened its mouth, turned its head,
rolled its round eyes, distorted circles
of dripping tear ducts, as if
all on command. I made such a good
friend out of myself I didn’t recognize
my reflection. If only, I thought,
we knew what to do with ourselves.
To kill them seemed, at least to me,
like it would clearly be wrong.
We thought, cut them lose,
that’s the thing, a real liberal streak
running through us all, cows
running through every field.
The problem was excusable, almost:
that they thought there should be a place
in the world that would welcome them.
But why? Who gave them this thought?
What ambition? To have a home?
Why couldn’t we tell them
there was nowhere in the world for them
in the way we’d been told there was nowhere for us?
We could point to the next town
and say go there, that we just barely found here,
that having just arrived ourselves
we weren’t ready just yet to give it up.
Hadn’t we fought hard, we said to each other,
and hadn’t we fought dirty to get this?
Hadn’t we done unspeakable things?
But instead I looked out the window
as the sun dipped behind the mountains
and the sky turned my favorite color of purple.
In the end people were saying horrible things,
but not me. I think that made me
one of the good ones, one of the humans.
Original appearance in Tikkun.
Steven Kleinman is the author of Life Cycle of a Bear, winner of the 2019 Philip Levine Poetry Prize. His poems have appeared in the American Poetry Review, the Gettysburg Review, Beloit Poetry Review, the Iowa Review, Oversound, American Literary Review, Tikkun, and elsewhere. He is the interim director of the University of the Arts BFA in creative writing, he is the faculty coordinator of the Art Alliance Writers’ Workshop, and a contributing editor at the American Poetry Review, where he co-hosts the podcast. Learn more at stevenkleinmanpoetry.com