VIlle du Château du Passy, France


At this hour I watch the light gather up the wheat in her blue nets.
The ground thickens with mist and the throat of evening
gurgles and purrs. The goats are in their beds.
I can hear the mice softly thumping beneath the eaves.
I have made my home here,
learning to navigate my troupe of goats
past blue wheat and fields of seedlings,
to occupy this granary with its many shadows,
a family of mice and one hirondelle.

It’s still dark when I go to rouse the troupe,
drive them into the milking room,
where they line up their rumps to me.
I know each of them by the size and feel of their udders,
still warm with sleep, the shape and curve of their backs.
I slip my hands through their hindlegs to take their milk
while they munch on grain.
They have accepted this bargain.
This one has deep cuts from barbed wire
across the tender skin of an udder.
When I grip and pull down on her teat
she lets out the scratchy, witch-like bleat
of the dead.

O poet asleep in your granary of words,
waiting for a new moon to be born in a hay bale,
for the smell of dung and must in the straw piles
to waft with frankincense and myrrh,
for the knife to fall from the butcher’s hand
and the ram to walk away like Isaac from the block.

For the end to turn back to the beginning
where the dung drops to dust and gives life
to wheat and sunflower,
where a drop of milk clings to a teat like Saturn’s last moon,
and the blood in its puddle of afterbirth swirls in its diaphanous sac
and the cow swallows it whole the way the universe drinks its stars.
Leaving you these words in the dusty chink of a windowsill:
Hirondelle. Milk Pail. Bell


Alexis Lathem

Alexis Lathem is an environmental journalist, editor, and writing instructor. She is the recipient of the Chelsea Award for Poetry, a Vermont Arts Council Grant, and a Bread Loaf scholarship. Her poems and essays have appeared in the AWP Writer's Chronicle, Gettysburg Review, Hunger Mountain, Chelsea, Spoon River, Saranac Review, Beloit, and other journals. She lives on a small farm in Vermont.