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 Even as we speak, there's a smoker's cough
from behind the whitethorn hedge: we stop dead in our tracks;
a distant tingle of water into a trough.
In the past half-hour—since a cattle truck all but sent us shuffling off this mortal coil— we've consoled ourselves with the dregs of a bottle of Redbreast.
Had Hawthorne been a Gael, I insist, the scarlet A on Hester Prynne would have stood for "Alcohol.
" This must be the same truck whose taillights burn so dimly, as if caked with dirt, three or four hundred yards along the boreen (a diminutive form of the Gaelic bóthar, "a road," from bó, "a cow," and thar meaning, in this case, something like "athwart," "boreen" has entered English "through the air" despite the protestations of the O.
): why, though, should one taillight flash and flare then flicker-fade to an afterimage of tourmaline set in a dark part-jet, part-jasper or -jade? That smoker's cough again: it triggers off from drumlin to drumlin an emphysemantiphon of cows.
They hoist themselves onto their trampoline and steady themselves and straight away divine water in some far-flung spot to which they then gravely incline.
This is no Devon cow-coterie, by the way, whey-faced, with Spode hooves and horns: nor are they the metaphysicattle of Japan that have merely to anticipate scoring a bull's-eye and, lo, it happens; these are earth-flesh, earth-blood, salt of the earth, whose talismans are their own jawbones buried under threshold and hearth.
For though they trace themselves to the kith and kine that presided over the birth of Christ (so carry their calves a full nine months and boast liquorice cachous on their tongues), they belong more to the line that's tramped these cwms and corries since Cuchulainn tramped Aoife.
Again the flash.
Again the fade.
However I might allegorize some oscaraboscarabinary bevy of cattle there's no getting round this cattle truck, one light on the blink, laden with what? Microwaves? Hi-fis? Oscaraboscarabinary: a twin, entwined, a tree, a Tuareg; a double dung-beetle; a plain and simple hi-firing party; an off-the-back-of-a-lorry drogue? Enough of Colette and Céline, Céline and Paul Celan: enough of whether Nabokov taught at Wellesley or Wesleyan.
Now let us talk of slaughter and the slain, the helicopter gunship, the mighty Kalashnikov: let's rest for a while in a place where a cow has lain.

Poem by Paul Muldoon
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