It’s dark and I think of all the branding fires
in barrels, 55 gallon drums yawning smoke
outside corrals, handles waiting, reaching in—

and the one I’ll start with an old Western
Livestock Journal
and redwood kindling split
with an axe, a little diesel added to short chunks

of dry Live Oak, belching flames. How we get
to white coals doesn’t matter to anyone but me.
The calves sleep quietly with their mothers,

like any other dark morning, unaware
of what’s coming, dodging long loops
and whoops of men before the iron

and vaccinations, tag, ear mark and castration,
nasal swabs of DNA on cards and nubs of horns
removed in less than two minutes of their lives—

like going to the doctor. When it’s over
they’ll tell their mothers while being licked.
But by tomorrow they’ll forget it ever happened.

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