Manure was the word we used, or barnyard
muck. Not that manure was elegant,
but more so in the cattle stalls.
I still remember Christmas holidays,
the manure spreader parked,
ready, between two open doors,
and long-shafted pitch forks,
one with four tines, one with five,
the wood worn smooth in the handles,
the metal burnished and gleaming,
and the litter (isn’t that a nice word)
mixed with hay coming up in layers,
almost like thin-rolled well-baked pastry.
Cow manure smells sunny
compared to pig. Cows eat grass,
breathe grass, pass grass,
and something, though faint, lingers
of clover and sun and vegetable life.
Outside, around the doors, where sweet rain
fouled manure—imagine such a thing!—
the cows’ stomping and milling
made a black mess, a true muck—
this is what shit looks like, I always
think, even now, something fetid,
fecal, foul, black as tar, suck-
deep and miry. I walked through that,
too, as barefoot country boys do,
in summertime. But in winter,
straining to pry and peel up
a thin layer, a towel-length sheet
of cow manure, I sang (whenever,
I could find, a breath, between forking,
and tossing) every Christmas carol I knew.
Charles A. Swanson teaches English in an Academy for Engineering and Technology. Frequently published in Appalachian magazines, he also pastors a small church, Melville Avenue Baptist in Danville. He has two books of poems: After the Garden, published by MotesBooks, and Farm Life and Legend, from Finishing Line Press.