With his tall gray boots, strange protective white
bodysuit as if he were going to do something radioactive,
I’m young; I don’t understand; I hide behind hay bales
with the heifers; and we start to grow up.
Impregnation is like having a train coming at you, hitting you, going
in reverse, coming at you again,
The insemination man with his ramrod, not quite a penis,
Threading it through the cervix. All his disgusting canisters.
Never trust a dude in a white van:
Mysterycow juice God in his altar boy paper whites,
the insemination man stalks
my dreams. Wake up girls! I want to scream,
but Grandmother gives me the look.
I will read “The Handmaid’s Tale” soon enough.
Twenty years later,
I will like to invent an eating disorder
where you keeping pumping milk even after
your baby’s weaned so you can eat
the 500 extra calories. No need for an insemination man.
I am always pregnant and lactating
in my imagination.
Small sassy child in coveralls and red bandana I let
the cows, sub in for God, minister to me,
for they have four mighty stomachs
and chew Holy cud. I ask them if
I will marry, and they moo.
And I crawl beside the oldest one, who
lets me lie next to her, my head on her big belly,
her long tongue licks the hay of my hair.
I’ve spent a lifetime not saying what I mean
in order to say what I mean: the art of womanhood in my time,
but I’ve tried to make it sound serious and smart,
and so I’ve become a conspiracy theory to my self.
And so I’ve written letters to the governing body of Starbucks
because everyone knows they make baby-formula for grown-ups.
We like our yummy milk, and when
we have lactose intolerance or morals
we make it out of nuts or oats or beans.
We like milk that much.
We delivered a breech calf.
Grandmother’s engagement ring slid off
her thin finger inside the mother cow,
so she pushed her hand back in, felt around
until she retrieved it. The vet arriving,
three of us pulling. I fell in the muck. And
one day I will with this ring wed,
when brides will fill the countryside,
and I will tell this story because this barn
is where my life begins;
because this barn was moving
because years were shifting
beneath it. The windows were blurred
with the crying of rain, and the blankets
in the milking room piled like leaves in autumn.
Angelic cows watch over me still, the neglected
child who has forgiven and been
forgiven. All summer has every other summer in it,
like all our hay has alfalfa in it. Everything
seems new at some time. Like the way kisses can.
The ring is gold and is no longer on my finger.
This is my secret marriage: There is no going back to the cow stalls,
or my youth. So, I drink my milk warm and sleep
and my life begins, wedded again.
Elizabeth A.I. Powell is the author of The Republic of Self, a New Issue First Book Prize winner, selected by C.K. Williams. Her second book of poems, Willy Loman’s Reckless Daughter: Living Truthfully Under Imaginary Circumstances won the 2015 Anhinga Robert Dana Prize, selected by Maureen Seaton, and was a Small Press Bestseller and named a “Books We Love 2016” by The New Yorker. Her third book of poems, Atomizer is forthcoming in 2020 with LSU Press.
Her novel, Concerning the Holy Ghost’s Interpretation of JCrew Catalogues, was published in 2019. Her work has appeared in the Pushcart Prize Anthology 2013, Alaska Quarterly Review, The Cortland Review, The Colorado Review, Electric Literature, Forklift, Ohio, Harvard Review, Indiana Review, Missouri Review, Mississippi Review, Ploughshares, and elsewhere.
She is Editor of Green Mountains Review, and Associate Professor of Creative Writing at Northern Vermont University. She also serves on the faculty of the low-residency MFA in Creative Writing at the University of Nebraska-Omaha.