The Barn Cats

by Vess Quinlan

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The Barn Cats

It’s funny, the things you remember;
Like accepting without question
That it was your solemn duty
To study hard and earn big money
Because parents suffered the depression.

How on your tenth birthday
You walked down to milk
With a staggering headache,
Sat on the one legged stool
And pressed your forehead
Against her silken flank.

How you remember dull ringing sounds
As the first squirts hit bottom;
How the sound changed to a quiet hiss
As foaming milk filled the shiny bucket;
How the smell of fresh warm milk
Rose to mingle with the clean cow smell
How the barn cats sat half-circled,
Mewing politely, insisting there was enough
To fill their little pan.

How the gentle cow responded
To strong brown hands
And let down her milk;
How calmness and forbearance
Were transmitted through your skull;
How your pain was drawn
Into the patient cow.

And now, years later,
You stare out a city window
And ask yourself if big money
Is really better than barn cats
And cow cured headaches.

© Vess Quinlan

VESS QUINLAN is the third generation on both sides of his family to raise livestock and feed in Colorado. He spent childhood summers on his uncles’ ranches, then worked on neighbors’ ranches beginning in high school. He started writing poetry and prose in 1951 when confined with polio for nearly a year. He’s worn many hats, including one as a long-haul truck driver and another as a member of the Western Folklife Center Board. Through writing, he introduces audiences to the people and places that have shaped his life. Quinlan lives in Alamosa, Colorado.