Monday, March 16, 2009


As a child, I dreamed of living with animals: goats, chickens, cattle. My father grew up on a dairy farm, so maybe I had it in my blood somehow, though I have never lived on a farm. In my dream farm, all the animals were safe, respected and cared for throughout their natural lives. The harsh brutality of the farming life alarmed me each time I encountered it. Once, I tried to rescue a baby goat who was going to be slaughtered for meat, but my parents wouldn't let me keep him (we lived in town). My dad told me he would grow up to be a big, stinky, rough-horned billy-goat. I cried and cried! And there were others: rabbits, geese, chickens. What an array of rescues I would have had, if I'd been allowed! Maybe that's why I have so many animals living in my home now, though they are all ones that are permitted within city limits (still no goats, sadly).

I saw this image on Every Photo Tells a Story, an image-prompt blog for poets. It brought back some of these memories for me, and it also inspired this poem. This topic also reminded me of Peaceful Prairie Sanctuary, which truly seems to be my kind of farm. Peaceful Prairie also has a blog, here; the writing is absolutely gorgeous and heart-moving.


Chocolate eyes tracked her movement
as she hauled wood, then sloshed water
an icy torrent torn from the stream
swollen now with runoff
tin buckets tipped, one by one
into the enormous white-legged troughs
in which girls like her once soaked
their skin to ruddy and scrubbed
with lye soap and sage.

The soft-eared ones trailed along behind,
steady, pausing from time to time
to nibble on a dandelion or tuft of fresh grass.
Their mouths turned, circular
as those great flat teeth worked
the tender spring greens to pulp
readily as the paired stone discs
crush grain to powder in the flourmill.

They were family, she and the hooved ones:
all girls, safe here, the one place in the world
where they were all just people.
So she dropped her buckets in the grass
and sat on a sunny hillock to drink
in the morning, watching the sluggish bees
bumble their low drone
among the first blossoms, the soft breath
of her snuffling companions tumbling
into the quick-nibbled shoots around her.

Rachel Westfall
March 16, 2009


Julie said...

I love this poem and all of the beautiful details. It makes me think of my grandmother and the stories she used to tell me about the animals on her farm. Yet the poem has a timeless quality to it. Wonderful.

I started to pick out my favorite lines, but they are all so's hard to single one out. But I do love the soft breath of her snuffling companions. That entire last stanza is a winner. Thanks for the links, too. I'll check those out now.

Kelly said...

I understand and respect the farmer, the hunter, the meat-eater on an intellectual level, but on a heart level.. I mourn and vowed never to eat meat again.

Beautiful poem!

Woman in a Window said...

I think that happens, things get in the blood and they don't purge. I loved your poem. I love your sentiment (although I'm afraid I could muster the brute when needed.)

Anonymous said...

I to loved this poem it gave me visions of farm life..which I always thought looked inviting on so many levels

christopher said...

Life Eats Life

I know it is hard,
that life does eat life.
It is expected of us.
All we get is choice,
what life shall we eat today?

Why should my orange
be okay with my
hands stripping its skin, pulling
wedges, little squirts
of juice, cast away
seeds that were meant for planting.
Why not grieve that?

Karen said...

Rachel - The detail is gorgeous. Maybe you know how blessed you are to see the world as you do, but if you don't, let me tell are blessed!! You also are blessed with an empathy for the natural world that shines in all of your poems. I love this.

Now for Christopher. Isn't he amazing?

Every Photo Tells A Story said...

Rachel: First of all, I can relate 110% to what you wrote about the harsh brutality of farm life where it concerns farm animals. Not that I ever lived on a farm, but ever since I was a little girl, I would go hysterical whenever I saw an animal (usually on TV, and usually fiction) get hurt. Even now, I would love to be able to work or volunteer in an animal shelter, but I can't because it tears me apart to see animals living under those conditions.

Secondly, your poem is beautiful and I posted it under the image. If I had to choose my favorite words (meaning) it would have to be this:

"They were family, she and the hooved ones"

Thank you for dropping by and sharing your link:)

And, I know I only drop by and comment when you write on my blog, but since I don't have the time and energy to visit everyone who writes poetry, I don't visit anyone (but a young person I know.)I hope you can understand.


jozien said...

Lovely poem.
I did live on a farm. And did had my share of animals. Some rescued from their own mothers, for me to raise them.
I found it hard to deal with the fact that eventually they all died, i am still here.
I now only have two cats. I am very attached to them. But they not to me.

Vesper said...

Rachel, your poem and your thoughts are so close to my heart. I still dream sometimes of having a farm where I would lovingly care for all the animals and the only produce would be milk, and cheese, and eggs...

I love those chocolate eyes...

and this

They were family, she and the hooved ones:
all girls, safe here, the one place in the world
where they were all just people.

Beautiful poem!

K.Lawson Gilbert said...

This is mesmerizing and so artfully written -

in the morning, watching the sluggish bees
bumble their low drone
among the first blossoms, the soft breath
of her snuffling companions tumbling
into the quick-nibbled shoots around her.

I love the value of each word. There is such a play of emotions here.

RachelW said...

Julie, thank you :) Yes, I drew upon stories from family too, to try and understand this scenario. There are so many stories.

Kelly, I am troubled by it both on the heart level and on an intellectual level. I too will never eat meat.

Erin, thank you :) The brute I cannot muster, unless it is to end suffering, and even that I struggle with. I can't even prune a bush without apologising to it profusely. ;)

Robert, thank you, and I'm glad to see you are still around.

Christopher, maybe that's why I have so many orange and grapefruit seedlings in my house. I feel compelled to give at least a few of those seeds a chance at life. And I save squash seeds for the garden. Fruits are grown for our nourishment and enjoyment, so that we may disperse the seeds... Some seeds will not even germinate until they pass through the acid environment of an animal's stomach.

Nancy, Thank you! :) And I totally understand how hard it is to read a lot of blogs; it is overwhelming to keep up with more than a handful.

Jozien, you are wise about your cats :) Though I am sure they are fond of you, if not attached!

Vesper, thank you!

And K., thank you too! :)

christopher said...

Rachel, nature is certainly opportunistic. I am not sure in some absolute sense this makes what nature does "okay" from the orange or any other vegetative point of view. The question would be whether or not sentience in plants is of the same quality such that a kind of "self" could protest a situation in some way, in other words, suffer. Buddhism claims that all matter has sentience in this sense. There is no fundamental distinction between living matter and dead matter. Suffering runs throughout. I believe Buddhism is right in this regard, though I think the term is awkward.

The quality of human and mammalian consciousness is different in intensity and not in kind. Lacking motility is not a good signal for lacking sentience.

That nature governs all of us in the aggregate means it is probably indifferent to personal suffering. We humans do hold a special position in that some of us are not indifferent to suffering beyond ourselves, and even our species. That nature should choose to make lemonade out of the lemons of suffering, i.e. render seeds fertile in the acid of another creature's digestion, does not stop the suffering of the "self" that gave up the seeds involved. I suspect suffering is suffering to all of us. But this is just my opinion of course. :)

RachelW said...

Christopher, I agree wholeheartedly that motility is not a prerequisite for sentience. I tend to recognise sentience in the tree, and lifeforce but not sentience in the fruit. That is just me. :) I don't take it quite as far as the Buddhist teachings do, though I do have strong Buddhist leanings.

The Buddhist emphasis on suffering is one of the things I have trouble comprehending. I believe that anything that can experience suffering can have other experiences, too, such as ecstatic joy, exertion, grief, longing, fulfillment and peace.

Karen said...

On my way home from work today, I was stopped in traffic beside a farm where there were several cows (all facing the same direction, of course) and two calves. As they walked, their little heads bobbed in rhythm. I thought of birth, youth, and this poem.

christopher said...

Rachel, I understand that suffering as Buddhists use the term is actually technical. Sometimes one can think of it better in the implications. One is "in the way". The other, "that which holds one back". Or block and attachment, perhaps. Suffering in the Buddhist sense actually can feel good in the moment. But then it leads to problematic rebirth if it does not lead to consequences in the present life. Buddhist causation shares with Aristotle the notion of Final Cause, meaning the future colors the present in a fixed way under certain conditions. This is contained in the idea of suffering.

I understand your thought of the tree and the fruit. I also am concerned that I overstated the Buddhist position in my statement. I was confusing another stream of thought with the Buddhist thought. The Gaia hypothesis is more accurately leading to the belief that I hold. I am utterly sure that for me, I need to act from the life eats life place, and that from and to every direction the eater "violates" the impulse to stay whole on the part of the eaten. There is a way that the whole reflects in the parts, and all interpenetrates.

I just wanted to correct myself here because I miswrote here. I am not a Buddhist but I find myself sympathetic with certain Buddhist forms, and especially resonate with the Bodhisattva ideal. The ideal of course answers a challenge as well. The ideal is the solution to a problem and I feel that for me the problem is more real than any other eschatological religious expression. There is a way no one can really go unless we all go. Leaving for other places is desirable but does not satisfy eternally if the least is left behind. Believe me, I wish that were not so.

RachelW said...

Karen, I hope they are kindly treated. :)

Christopher, I guess I prefer a more... joyful, positive view of the energy and effort in all things. I've done some reading on this and it's one place I've typically stumbled in the Buddhist thought. I do realise though that the thinking varies from teacher to teacher, style to style, and with translation. Also, my understanding of it all is quite limited.

And I agree with you that we are all in it together, so to speak.