Near Mosier: Another Morning

This morning the half-ton Holstein, heavy with calf, barrels through the barn door and lumbers into her stanchion.  Fearless, I squat near her on the t-shaped milking stool, made with scraps of 2x4.  I rub flecks of dirt from her udders, lean into her warm flank, and massage down the creamy milk, aiming the stream into a steel bucket I’ve placed beneath her.  Suddenly I’m hungry.  Back in the house the boss’s wife is cooking hotcakes and bacon; a fresh pot of coffee is percolating.  Walking to the barn not ten minutes ago, I could see the Union Pacific as it rounded a curve on the Washington side of the Columbia, its headlight flaring into the river’s recesses and across our Oregon hills.  The first striations of morning light were shooting through the clouds on the horizon—glowing magenta, fiery yellow—turning the sky salmon-colored and luminous.   Sunrise arches over the far hills in Klickitat County, filtering through the open window of the barn.  The pungent scent of tarweed rises from the pasture mixing with the far-off smell of pine, scrub oak and upturned loam.  The Holstein shifts her weight; she sighs as I pull down the tepid milk.  My hands are stronger now than when I first came to work here in the spring; my fingers no longer ache from this daily task that takes a full quarter hour.  The cat is suddenly nudging my elbow, awakened from her perch on the highest bale in the hayloft.  I’ve checked for rattlers in the dim light—nary a one—and consider how I haven’t yet lost a bucket of milk, or my balance, to the cow’s hind leg. As always, wind blows at the lava-edged rim of the gorge where pale camas flowers poke through thin soil—and hundreds of feet below the cliffs the Semi trucks steam eastward on the Interstate.  I’m comfortable wearing someone else’s shirts and pants, hand-me-downs from my employer, and a pair of Tony Lama boots I’ve saved up to buy, sturdy enough for this farm work.  I don’t know my destiny, and I don’t know how to love anyone or how to be loved.  I’m undeserving.  Out there, no one knows this.  I could be smart or stupid, but I don’t believe I can be anything I want.  So I give myself wholly to the moment, to the trees, the cool wind, the harsh bluffs, and to the copper-colored river glinting with light and shadows, blue and silver.   


This poem was published as “Morning on the River,” in Sentence: Journal of Prose Poetics, Vol. 7, 2010, edited by Dean Rader