Providing grounds for the greening of human language.





Eye Contact with a Bull by Mark Penny

by Jonathon | 2.28.12

Leaves of Grass

I am pillar-to-posting at my friend’s hobby farm
In Red Rock, British Columbia
Something about that name tells you primitive
Like maybe there’s a bloodstained erratic
Where curious deer spilled their jugulars
But it might just be rust on a pile of giant lake-shore skimming stones
Not even Google knows
I checked

So I’m on this farm
Where I muck out the hen house while my friend’s off
Burning petrol with his wife and kids
And I’m on the way back to the house
Feeling guilty about the deep wet grass I haven’t mown yet
Because it’s wet
And there’s a lot of it
And I know from experience what happens to the stubborn steel blade
Of the hardiest power mower
In wet grass
And the long job of scraping and scraping again
I’ll be in for if I once start
Because it’s like washing the dishes
I hate to start
But once I start
I hate to stop
Till it’s all clean and spotless
And drying in the rack like a trussed up deer

So I’m walking back to the house
In the tall wet grass
Not knee-high tall
Maybe ankle-high
But getting taller
And if I don’t get on with mowing it
My friend will have to
And he’s paying me to look after the place
Including the lawn
And next to me on the left
There’s a barb-wire fence with gray wooden posts
You know the kind
All round and grainy and cracked
And held in place by nothing but a shallow burial of a foot or so
Holding each other up by sheer fear of being the first to fall
And the laughing-stock of every fence in the country round about
And on the other side of this fence there’s a bunch of cows
About half a dozen, I guess
Waist-high grass-crunchers with their minds somewhere muddled in the stars
Or in the pin-prick petals of the knee-high grass
To judge by their faces
Slow, quiet, empty-eyed
Ignorant to the point of bliss
Not a state I’d want to be in
I’d rather bleed to death in the light of day
Than in the dark of night
If you get my drift

So they’re looking at me with that slow, quiet interest cows have for things that don’t eat them
And we’re all okay with that
Me and the cows
But there’s this bull
And being no coward
Fence or no
I stare him down
Or try to, anyway
But he’s no lapdog
He’s got a six-strong bevy to look macho for
And maybe protect
So he stares right back
All lame-brained fury
And I start thinking
He’s big
He’s strong
And that fence is more psychology than fact
Those hard, round slabs of living beef around his neck and shoulders
Could make a prickly domino of that man-made line
Between brute being and regularly cropped grass
It’s pride or a safe walk home
So I look away and walk red-faced to the house

I’m still ashamed
I never did mow that lawn
But the top note of fresh meadow over sun-bled dung
Still smells sweet to me

Find a brief bio and another poem by Mark here.

8 Responses to Eye Contact with a Bull by Mark Penny

  1. Jonathon

    Skeptics have said for years that poetry is bull. Here, a bull manages to be poetic, though this is a lyric poem, so it’s the meditation that is poetic more than the bull. Still. I am enamored of two lines in particular: “Between brute being and regularly cropped grass” and “. . . the top note of fresh meadow over sun-bled dung”.

    At some point, I’d like regular contributors/readers to weigh in on essential elements of poetry and their effects. Not that every comment ought to be a critical essay, but it would be interesting to hear perspectives on what works for readers in general (and particular) and what doesn’t, consistently. More interesting, even, would be a discussion about the exceptions. I’m generally skeptical of free/open-form poetry, especially in the hands of novices, but I must admit that when it works (for me), as it does in “Shuddering” and (mostly) here, it works well. And I discover that other, perhaps more fundamental patterns than meter, etc, hold sway after all.

  2. Mark


    Well, one thing I’ve been thinking about, as I prepare to write my own poetics in verse, is the inter-intensification of elements, the way, in well-written verse, two or more elements combine to make each other ring louder, shake deeper and live longer in the heart.

  3. Mark

    Here’s a link to my thoughts on how to use words in poetry:

  4. Mark

    Oh, heck. I’ll just quote it here.

    Any word can burn
    Sear through the subtle sight of mind
    By smile or rage
    But you must twist it
    Mix it
    Tear its soul
    Feel the bounds
    Break them
    Break its bones
    Rip out its secrets
    Bleed it dry of all but the meanings you desire
    That is how poetry plays with fire

    I wrote this little lecture after reading a piece which called my attention to the fact that, like language learners, verse-writers sometimes lean too heavily on big-point words, words they think will help them sound good when either they have little to say or they haven’t worked out how to say what’s on their minds. I wanted to see if I could use the word “subtle” in a concrete fashion, rather in the vague big-point fashion it often gets consigned to. The theory was that any word could be used powerfully if used properly and I went on, in a Welsh passion, to elucidate the process by which that power is achieved.

  5. Mark

    If you don’t get it, consider this: “subtle” is one of only two adjectives in this piece, and except for a few necessary function words like the modal verbs “can” and “must”, is just about the only word that is not inherently concrete, yet it achieves concreteness here–precisely because of the twisting, mixing, tearing, feeling, breaking, ripping and bleeding undertaken by the poet (if I may presume to that title).

  6. Mark

    Correction: rather THAN in the vague big-point fashion

  7. Sarah Dunster

    I love the fence as psychological barrier. It pretty much depicts my entire relationship with nature :)

  8. Mark

    Yes, the barriers of the mind. In this case, I was concerned that if it came to it, the bull might find that the fence wasn’t as sturdy as it looked.

Leave a Reply