We play a game we don’t like,
switch hats to become feedlot boys –
get afoot in the corral once the cows
are parted. Clang! Bang! steel
upon steel crowding flesh, fat calves
channeled head to tail as the chute
ratchets another neck for vaccine
guns, ID tags, fly control and
anything else – we see ourselves
as children, the first days jammed
in school, every muscle hard,
eyes wild – some hurt themselves
and we hate it, hate authority
and all the economic rules that say
we must to stay a horseback.

I look into the big pen, pause
to meet anxious faces of mothers
waiting for their first born
to leave the clatter of confinement,
gathered in the early cool before
breakfast, paired sides already pressed,
nurse warm milk. They are forgiving
and some forget quicker than others –
some more sensitive than we. But
we have acquiesced, become a cog
in a corporate machine, guilty
in our own eyes, in the eyes of all
the old cowboys who never packed
fencing pliers or a pipe wrench,
guilty in the eyes of those we feed.

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