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I am trying to hear the cow’s story,
but it is thin and acrid as the stream
of piss and fear from the back
of a cattle truck pitching between hedges
on the abattoir road. I am trying to hear
the cow’s story, but all I have seen
with my own eyes is the cluster
of triangle faces in an evening field,
blocked into a watchful stand, twitching
at flies with colour-tagged ears;
the brush-strokes of a prize
beast painted all rectangular
on the sign outside the proud butcher’s;
the petting-farm breeders with their hay,
antibac handwash spilt on the ribbed
concrete floors, eyelashes swooping
at rapt children. I am trying
to hear the cow’s story, but the meat
packs in the supermarket are siren-singing
in polypropylene trays, boasting
their 2-for-1s, their bright red
bounty. I am trying to hear the cow’s
story, but when I bend closer, to her
mouth, her breath of cud, its stream
of piss and fear, daily use of her
body for breakfast milk, ghosts
of her calves, separated and penned
away, will curdle in my throat.

Caroline Harris is in the second year of a Poetry Writing MA. She is the author of Ms Harris’s Book of Green Household Management (John Murray) and lives in Bath.

‘I wrote this poem for Karen McCarthy Woolf’s inspiring Human / Nature online course. Prompted by poems where Pablo Neruda and John Kinsella use anaphora so well to make a political point lyrically, I wanted to listen closely to a story that isn’t usually told in this way. I found it hard to write – I’m vegetarian, but still eat dairy.’

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