Mennonite Poetry Home | Leonard Neufeldt



“The Cow of Good Fortune: A Prose Poem on Non-Fiction”

                              For Tamera

It’s your fierce whispers that redden the large cow circling us
head down, dripping water from her mouth, tossing her head
up as if she’s had enough to drink, eyes wide apart to watch
me swallow your ink-black rasps of Turkish and English and
pauses frightened by the cow’s nearness as we move closer.
The dream trying to explain itself before completing its work
and already forgetting what it wanted to explain, except you,
my daughter, ask again for the value of that part of a cow tired
and angry enough with everything, including the boy, to stop
circling, lie down on her side, end this dream and die among
village onlookers in their everyday Turkish drab rather than
turn and walk in her usual lane of life, leaving me elsewhere,
not in Lycia but on Yarrow Central Road, a boy who watched
the cows from the common pasture grow large, file by close
as their smell in a rhythm hoofing the gravel loose, thwacking
each step, every head bobbing as though not part of the herd
or a village of small barns, and yet part of remembering, tails
ruddering them forward as if to help hold the line. Then one
or more veer suddenly away from the others with a slight nod
and turn in to their yard and gate, udders slapping sideways


We agree: take the old road home for the view, the Aegean
concentrating pure turquoise below my side of the car from
Kadikalesi to Turgutreis, gulls etching the sea in their slow
pursuit of each other and farther back islands riding arc-lines
of surf filled with light. From Turgutreis to Akyalar, where
we turn into the hills to Gürece: sun-seared slopes to the left,
the ridge treeless, sun hanging from a cloud’s vast aureole,
your window wide open despite the air conditioner’s snuffle,
half of my window a dust-spangled brilliance. I want to say
taking a local bus would have been easier as we slow, steer
through herds of cloud shadows, pull visors down as the road
doubles back through yellow-flowered prickly pear, past ever-
green domes of maki and half-hidden huddle of stone houses,
the sag of their roofs, the grey stitchwork of stone hedges . . .

              A boy, thin as bamboo and much too close

running toward the cow in front of us, its red head and neck
turned to face us as she lifts with a whump and swims our way
from the road’s mirage, nose widening its blackness toward
us, flattening against the windshield like a bird’s hapless fate,
weariness staring past everything. When a cow’s eyes slide
from a car’s hood they leave nothing behind except front end
damage until the door offers more than asphalt: the cow on its
side, larger than it was, as we step out, as trepidation increases
redness, as a beat-up truck tries to steer around us, the boy’s
words following his hands to explain that he untied the cow
and turned his back, the cow convulsing, shitting on weather-
eaten pavement in steady rhythm, around her neck a rope with
the blue eye to guard against evil, witnesses gathering, closing
in on our doubts that we’re really here, wanting to know why.
Since neither of us has answers, they have theirs’, eye-level
rage become meticulous, your back to me, your head turned,
mouth hand-cupped for a loud whisper asking what a cow is
worth. The shouting will not be shut out, but the question waits,
bending the years far back from here to dairy herds in Yarrow.
The police chief, the one known for hurting young women in
his jail, arrives like a mirror’s reflection of sagging eye bags
and belly and an intensity of smiles for us all. Our artless offer
is rejected, and he writes and writes, for another time you
mutter next to my good ear ringing with words foreign as any
time and place where not a single word wanted to be heard.
And neither you nor the police chief nor the crowd’s chorus of
exactions notice the red mass of convulsions yield to shivers,
the cow stuttering up hind end first on her third try and starting
a slow circle almost true, her radius from an unknown centre,
a four-legged limp round the ragged ring of people gathered
to confirm their hard life like the cow’s, beyond redemption,
the cow’s circling like a search for coming back from not being
lost, body almost together, jerking herself forward, each step
more expected, a more certain rhythm, head turned to us as if
figuring all of us out, deaf to the car-horn bedlam behind us

Not a single gaze at our Ford’s hollowed-out hood or the red
and black Galatasaray soccer flag limp on the aerial’s tip. But
everyone knows a cow cannot be struck twice, and the owner
can’t help the twitch in his smile – how miracles and windfall
are really the same. When the cow dips her head to muffle
a snort our offer is accepted: 350 dollars in Turkish lira for
a cow milked morning and evening (600 if her milk has dried
and 800 if she dies before tonight) ‒ the cow still circling and
circling us, gnats feasting on our stickiness of drying sweat

The truth about a red cow’s halting orbits of head-bobs on
a far-gone road in southwestern Turkey is this: if a young
woman walks back to her company car to find her purse and
her father walks with her, wary of the policeman’s short white
sleeves, hairy arms and fat index finger varying his theatre
of bidding cars by on stones and grit of the shoulder, the cow
will have gone when they return, and if they look where others
are looking, the cow, loosed from everything except direction,
is mincing up the road through heat-waves, head still hitching,
tail a private back and forth like a pendulum’s recitation of a
day’s regular advance, our eyes and the boy following as she
sways into her yard, her long rope lurching behind like misery


It happened, we say. Not as a hit during a slap-happy tourism
of hits and mostly misses, the hits without damages and with
pictures to prove them. It happened thirty years ago as if in a
dream parallel to a life really lived with all its name changes,
even changes now lost as memory tries to redeem place and
shape of what’s been lost. I’m told you and I are much alike,
long-term memory loyal as we try to tell how it happened to us
or to the others or to the cow, how the cow rose from the sun-
baked road rump first like a wonder, recalled by something
deep within. Will any of the others watching with anger have
searched themselves without anger for details that have gone
missing? Memory, like a cow’s redness, can circle and circle
as intently as Brigit Kelley’s three cows and the moon, and this
stand-up yet unsteady circling is what heaps up large measures
of detail, welcome or not. Sleep is often far yet near with them,
with an imprint of their tenacity on particulars and arrangement.
Hit or miss, we don’t ask why try to save again and again what
saved itself or can’t save itself in the whoosh of time. It’s not
us remembered; it’s remembering. It’s torn-off pages of our
world still filed within us, including the partialities of damaged
scraps, their desire to survive. Sometimes unsteady circling
is like a letting go. Sometimes almost too much returns with
gratitude or fear, assembled into what’s entirely recognizable
as if we managed every part and the whole, and even today we
walk away from what almost broke us down and retell it as
“this, more or less,” details tallied as though damages provide
lucidity that can be shared in different versions, although the
cow got up on her own, the boy changed his story and the
policeman’s report said you turned the wheel to hit the cow

Today’s new road from Turgutreis and Akyalar is four lanes
wide, you’ve built new offices in Bodrum, you use a driver
mostly, your police chiefs can be trusted, at least the ones
we know, and the price of cows has gone through the roof
with everything else like trees in your atrium. Never have you
haltered the word unlucky or let it get away, but neither of us
will forget the jailed half-night for ransoming a pregnant cow




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