blessing of the cattle


photo credit: Abbe Arenson

Blessing of the Cattle

Yesterday I stopped for a train
cattle cars rattled ambitiously across the tracks
car after car like a cartoonist
flipping page after page of single drawings
rendering them into a slow jerky action

Sunlight filtered through the moving slats
I could see the contents
cows packed body to body
hide against hide
black white brown blurred together
a flash of upturned face
occasional anxious eyes
legs braced against the rocking motion

clickity clack
clickity clack

Repetition came as the train
then passed in low flight before me
second after second
whistles and moos
whistles and moos
heading north
clickity clack
clickity clack
a hypnotizing metronome
a lullaby for decimation

And suddenly time inverted
it was the ‘1930’s’
the boxcars were ‘peopled’ instead of ‘cowed’
what would it have been like
to have been stopped in a car
at the tracks in Poland Germany Romania
and watched packed humans headed to concentration camps
listening to voices screaming and pleading
seeing patches of anguished faces
pressed against the wall of a mobile prison
noticing fingers in between the creviced slats
a ride toward a different consumption
the hunger for genocidal eradication
track upon track pulling them closer into the fate of Erebus

clickity clack
clickity clack
whistles and wails
whistles and wails

I found myself fixated upon the contagion of flashing red lights
my ears tuned to the familiar noise of rendering track
and a distant train whistle
A honk from behind jolted me back
into Tuesday of December 2005
the last of the cows was hurtling away
the worn wobbly caboose seemed a vacant guardian

While waiting for traffic to move
I blurted out:  yis’ga’dal v’yis’kadash Sh’may ra’bbo
Kaddish for Cattle
hu ya’aseh sholom olaynu –
may he bring peace upon us

The sun glared off the strips of metal track
I blinked at the brash luminosity
the cars drove away
annoyed at the interruption of time and schedule
my own moment of cessation was laden with clarity
cows people boxcars and red lights
melded together leavening my brain with a Cabalist chant
and in my brain all day
that rhythm haunted me

clickity clack
clickity clack
ride in a box car
never come back
never come back…

4 thoughts on “blessing of the cattle

  1. A friend directed me here; I’m sorry I’ve only just found you. This poem is incredible; the juxtaposition of man and beast under the same circumstances, likely meeting the same fate. I’m not surprised you recognised the similarity – I only hope the cattle were treated better at the end of their journey

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