Teaching a Dumb Calf


She came in reluctant. The dark shed
Was too webby with reminiscences, none pleasant,
And she would not go in. She swung away
Rolled her tug belly in the oily sway of her legs.
Deep and straw-foul the mud. Leakage green
From earlier occupants, fermenting. I tried
To lift her calf in ahead of her, a stocky red block,
And she pacific drover her head at me
Light-nimble as a fist, bullied me off,
And swung away, calling her picky-footed boy
And pulling for the open field, the far beeches
In their fly-green emerald leaf of a day.
We shooed and shouted her back, and I tried again
Pulling the calf from among her legs, but it collapsed
Its hind legs and lay doggo, in the abominable mud,
And her twisting hard head, heavier than a shoulder,
Butted me off. And again she swung away.
Then I picked her calf up bodily and went in.
Little piggy eyes, she followed me. then I roped her,
And drew her to the head of the stall, tightened her
Hard to the oak pillar, with her nose in the hay-rack,
And she choke-bellowed query comfort to herself.
He was trying to suck–but lacked the savvy.
He didn't get his nape down dipped enough,
Or his nose craning tongue upward enough
Under her tight hard bag of stiff teats each
The size of a Labrador's muzzle. They were too big.
He nuzzled slobbering at their fat sides
But couldn't bring one in. They were dripping,
And as he excited them they started squirting.
I fumbled one into his mouth–I had to hold it,
Stuffing its slippery muscle into his suction,
His rim-teeth and working tongue. He preferred
The edge of my milk-lathered hand, easier dimension,
But he got going finally, all his new
Machinery learning suddenly, and she stilled,
Mooing indignity, rolling her red rims,
Till the happy warm peace gathered them
Into its ancient statue.


Ted Hughes, Collected Poems, Farrar, Straus, and Giroux, 2005.