(I wrote this poem many years ago, before I ever imagined I would have a farm of my own, about an experience I had on a sheep farm in England. I have since then witnessed many lambs come into the world.)
The storm has been with us so long
we’ve grown accustomed to living inside of it
like Jonah inside his whale.
At the far edge of the moor,
the bare elms are scarcely visible,
at the limit of our world,
twisted, bent over like hooks,
holding on with their ancient roots,
like last thoughts in the minds of the dying.
In the evening I walk to the stable every hour
to see the ewes. Head down,
I feel the long, ropy threshings of the gales,
whirling clouds, disordering the stars,
and the luscious sucking at my boot-heels
pulling me back. I reach the stable and swing
my bundled body over the stile, stepping down
on the soft dry straw. There’s
a stirring among the ewes, the swish
of their full-wombed bodies in the straw.
I shine a torchlight and a golden world opens
like a lotus at the tip of a buddha’s finger
let go to float in the watery dark:
I see sheep in the full bloom of their bodies
dumbly crushing in their step
the rustling straw, the color of old psalms.
I kneel in the expectant stillness–
When the lambs come, they come easily
slipping down the hindlegs of their mothers,
who stand there, unamazed, still munching on hay;
then break through their slippery dark sacs,
coming into the world
like flowers from their seeds.
When I go, I turn for a moment and pause,
listen to a reiterative tin whistling, the gales
coming across the moor, like a distant drum rumbling.
I look back at the stable, and admire that the requisite
for stillness is so slight.
(From Alphabet of Bones (Wind Ridge 2015). To see more of my poems, go to my author website: alexislathem.wordpress.com)
Here is a favorite poem of mine by Maxine Kumin (which I have printed here without her permission.)
How it Goes On
Today I trade my last unwise
ewe lamb, the one who won’t leave home,
for two cords of stove-length oak
and wait on the old enclosed
front porch to make the swap.
November sun revives the thick
trapped buzz of horseflies. The siren
for noon and forest fires blows
a sliding scale. The lamb of woe
looks in at me through glass
on the last day of her life.
Geranium scraps from the window box
trail for her mouth, burdock burrs
are stickered to her fleece like chicken pox,
under her tail stub, permanent smears.
I think of how it goes on,
this dark particular bent of our hungers:
the way wire eats into a tree
year after year on the pasture’s perimeter,
keeping the milk cows penned
until they grow too old to freshen;
of how the last wild horses were scoured
from canyons in Idaho, roped, thrown,
their nostrils twisted shut with wire
to keep them down, the mares aborting,
days later, all of them carted to town.
I think of how it will be
in January, nights so cold
the pond ice cracks like target practice,
daylight glue-colored, sleet falling,
my yellow horse slick with the ball-bearing
sleet, raising up from his dingy browse
out of boredom and habit
to strip bark from the fenced-in trees;
of February, month of the hard palate,
the split wood running out,
worms working in the flour bin.
The lamb, whose time has come, goes off
in the cab of the dump trick, tied to the seat
with baling twine, durable enough
to bear her to the knife and rafter.
O lambs! The whole wolf-world sits down to eat
and cleans its muzzle after.
[From The Forgotten Language, edited by Christopher Merrill (Gibbs-Smith 1991)]