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The Keeper's Voice

by Mike Carson

               John 3:27

I felt the sound begin when just a boy
Up in the dark, hot coffee in my gut,
Swung open the pasture gate beside the barn,
Stepped farther into chill, thick sodden grass,
Low mist, a few leftover stars that watched.
Among the clouds that split across the sky
I felt my way still higher, climbed the fence
And perched upon the corner post, breathed deep
The distance of the house, the city so far.
Into this close and shifting hold of dark
Called long and low as Bob had taught me to
The milking cry the cows lost in the field
Understood, not words but almost words,
The tone as otherworldly as I could make,
Sik caalf, sik caalf, hi yup, hi yup, sik caalf
And then their human names worked in, Big Red
Hi yup, hi yup Daisy, Shorty, hi up Bess.
Over the hill of the field I watched, no thought
Of what the words once were that warped to this,
Long conversation between the cows and men
That I, just ten, became the mystery of
Again, soliloquy of sounds I trolled
Across the emptiness, becoming just
A voice until at last the bodies hulked
Slow, shadowed, one by one, still made of dark
Strung out. Then in the gathering herd I felt
Not saw—Sik caalf, Brownie, hi yup, hi yup—
The udders tight, in sway, the drips of milk.
A long moan answers, rising in our talk.

From The Keeper's Voice by Mike Carson. Copyright © 2010 by Mike Carson. Used by permission of LSU Press.
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