Reading: The Calves Not Chosen by Linda Gregg

Linda Gregg (b. 1942) lives in New York. The biography on Poetry Foundation only mentions the many awards she won and we don’t really care about awards. I found a poem of hers that I find interesting. Here goes:

The calves not chosen
The mind goes caw, caw, caw, caw,
dark and fast. The orphan heart
cries out, “Save me. Purchase me
as the sun makes the fruit ripe.
I am one with them and cannot feed
on winter dawns.” The black birds
are wrangling in the fields
and have no kindness, all sinew
and stick bones. Both male and female.
Their eyes are careless of cold and rain,
of both day and night. They love nothing
and are murderous with each other.
All things of the world are bowing
or being taken away. Only a few calves
will be chosen, the rest sold for meat.
The sound of the wind grows bigger
than the tree it’s in, lessens only
to increase. Haw, haw the crows call,
awake or asleep, in white, in black.

I thought of the body part when I read ‘calves’, not the bovine. Alright, let’s atune to the year of the cow (and the crow). I am mulling over something, caw caw caw. What is the mysterious thing the boy says? He wants to be saved and ‘purchased’ in the summer in order to be safe in the winter time. Let’s keep that image in mind and continue. The field of black birds (not blackbirds) is skillfully depicted, the birds are living scarecrows and they don’t give a d*mn about anything. They are ‘murderous with each other’ is a great formulation.

What does Gregg means with all things are bowing or being taken away? To me it sounds like men’s exploitation of nature and the domestication of animals, like cows. A few calves will be chosen – for breeding or to become milk cows. So that was the cry of the orphan above, a calf concerned with survival, nothing special.

What do we make of the sound metaphor? And how do we get from caw caw to haw haw? Does it indicate some familiarity between the domesticated calf and the wild, murderous crow? And the soundscape of the wind in the trees that gets louder no matter what somehow indicates to me that the scene of choosing the calves is inevitable.

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