I used to love farmers’ fairs and carnivals when I was a kid. My cousins lived on a farm in Pennsylvania (sometimes a working farm, sometimes not), and I loved hanging out in the barns, roaming the fields looking quartz chunks, catching fish in the pond, but especially going to the Blue Valley Farm Show. There I’d look for the record-breaking bull, the tractor pull (which my cousin won one year, I think) and gorge myself on fried things.
Sometimes you see weird stuff at fairs, and one such encounter (somewhat fictionalized, I admit) I put into the poem Two-headed Calf at the Farm Show (which is in the book Necessary Myths —buy here). Anyway, I just happened to notice, via the Facebook page of The Evolution Store, a listing for an actual two-headed calf for sale. The auction house Bonhams is offering both the full mount and an articulated skeleton. Would someone please buy this for my birthday present? I know just the place I’d put it.
Two-headed Calf at the Farm Show
We came for sights and smells,
distractions of giant beets
and blue-ribbon goats,
but at the taxidermy tent we find
a body mounted, badly stitched and
held into a suckling pose
by wires hidden in the neck,
a calf that may or may not
have been more than we expected,
and who expects these things?
Not the calf as it entered the world
watching itself watching itself
slide out onto the sharp padding
of straw, strong hands pulling
at its legs. One heart, one spine
branching like a river
with two mouths to the sea
and for a brief moment
they both gasp, breath
struggling down a pair
of clotted throats, a god’s
joke that let the gentle eyes
open long enough to see
each other’s own lovely brown eyes
slowly close, the one heart too shocked
to bring legs up for balance
and finally those hands let go.
So now under a sun hot tent
we reach out to touch it,
holding hands but looking away,
thinking of the big coffee eyes
the moment one person knows before the other
that the fight for air is over
when one heart’s not enough
for both of us.
Here’s another taxidermy poem by me at Painted Bride Quarterly.
And here’s another tw0-headed calf poem, this one by Laura Gilpin (thanks to Laura Orem for the tip).
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