A Mercy

by Christian Teresi

As a boy he hauled full buckets, first light breaching
The details of cleared acreage, and thankfully again
When the day closed with the latch to the storage tank.

The balance of his efforts now replaced by vacuum hoses,
Herd size, volume of raw milk. The cost of production
Always more than the return. He recalls his father saying,

This will always be a way to make a living. The dairyman
Leaves alone the young calves not old enough to milk,
The ones that require the least, and goes after the heifers

Whose pendulums are always either feeding machines
Or birthing, and watches their heads twitch, so slight,
Indistinguishable from no or a nod. Each cow stares

From the preceding stall, waits stupidly, indifferent
To the muzzle flash. To help them along his rifle stares
Long enough at the empty space their head just held

To see if each still twitches. Then, if necessary, again.
All fiftyone shot in turn. Hulking beastly dominos.
The dairyman takes them all with him, since he suspects

He will not know how to let go of busy. So let them all go
Together. Echoes in the barn the same sound
Of target practice. His finger knows the body of the trigger

And exhale the sound just like a new gun being sighted
Or all those times he sat in tree stands his bead on some
Unlucky animal the slog of his breath pulled from him.