Morning fog hazes the field, and the cows, with their large, dark eyes, stare at me through the window. It’s 1984 and I’ve rented a house in Montville from Bill and Lori Terry, across from their dairy farm. We have sons the same age and it amazes me as I watch their 6-year-old herd the cows into the barn for milking.

The face of dairy farming was different then. Many more dairy farms dotted the countryside in Maine. It’s a tough life. Milk prices aren’t stable and with a small farm, they often don’t bring in enough to cover the cost of feed, fuel and maintaining equipment. Like many industries, dairy farms benefit from the economy of scale, so the push is to grow, enlarge your herd. That didn’t work for many small farmers so, for that and myriad other reasons, Bill and Lori eventually went out of the dairy business.

I never raised milk cows myself, but I did have a milk goat when I lived in Ripley. At that time we also had an Angus steer that supposedly had been gelded by a neighbor. I say “supposedly,” because it didn’t stop him from wanting to mount anything in sight, including the poor goat. I clearly remember bringing grain out to him in the field and having to run to escape his advances.

Dawn Potter lived for 25 years in Harmony, the town next to Ripley. She, too, knew dairy farmers and this poem, on the surface, relates to a pair of episodes that took place on a neighboring farm. Yet like most poems, it goes deeper than that. Dawn explains, “The title … refers to a Greek myth in which Zeus, in the form of a bull, rapes a young woman and then makes her the queen of Crete.” With that one word title, she summons up “the long history of fear that lies within the human-animal relationship” and asks us to consider “which … is more powerful,” man or beast. A difficult question.

This poem is from Dawn Potter’s first collection, “Boy Land & other poems,” published by Deerbrook Editions (which will also publish her fifth book of poetry next year). Dawn is the director of the Frost Place Conference on Poetry and Teaching as well as leading the high school writing program at Monson Arts. You can find out more about this talented poet and teacher on her website: http://dlpotter.blogspot.com/.

Europa

To bring in the cows he hurtles over

stubble on his mountain bike, coat spread

open to the wind. Last bike he had

got trampled by a bull not happy with him

so close to the ladies. Bulls are that way.

 

His wife tells about the one that took off

after her, baby playing in the sandbox

right in the line of fire. No harm done.

The boys took care of him damn quick,

though she remembers how it felt to run.

Judy Kaber is Belfast’s poet laureate.

 

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