from "The Chaff"
Pearl Whitman, March, 2032
Is there a moral force in the universe? Or, you could say
the bigger question is why I stand here at my kitchen sink
between mud and dandelion, asking myself this, as a junebug,
three months too soon, tries climb the drip-slick drain. Its legs
gain no grip, only to slide, slip again, and fall back in. With all
I've seen and had to do, you'd think this wouldn't shake me, but
I hate to see any living thing fail, especially because of us.
What happened this morning wasn't that. Dale says it must have
been the way he pulled her out, that my husband doesn't know
his way around chains, but Dale doesn't know, he wasn't there.
Wrapped them snug around the fetlocks, right above the hooves,
and when he pulled, he pulled him straight. But when one comes
out like that one did, it's hard to tell a man he did nothing wrong.
Sometimes they'll suckle one that's bent, but mostly they're
cast aside. This one clambered to his feet, over and over, only
to have his twisted frame toss him back down into the muck
and blood and goo— there used to be this video of a baby goat
stuck in mud being pulled to safety by firemen, only to be swept
right up by a bird of prey, who wasn't strong enough to hold it,
and dropped it against some nearby rocks lest it got pulled down
itself. Some things just start out being broken, and I don't say
that's fair. A moral force means I don't have to think about it.
I turn on the faucet, and let it run a good minute— I don't want to
leave her hang— before I put my boots and coat back on. The calf
lies wheezing in the cold birthing stall. I wrap the chain around his
legs, and drag him back behind the barn. I use the bat I always do,
and soak him good in gasoline. Dale says, why not grind him up
for feed? But that never crossed my mind. The cow knew it was all
wrong right away. Don't know how, but she knew. She just watched
him burn, and never made a sound.
Michael Albright has published poems in various journals, including decomP, Rogue Agent, Stirring, Rust + Moth, Tar River Poetry, Pembroke Magazine, Cider Press Review, Moon City Review, and the chapbook In the Hall of Dead Birds and Viking Tools. He lives on a windy hilltop near Greensburg, PA. with his wife Lori and an ever-changing array of children and other animals.