Brad Henderson

December Calving

i remember oak scent & pumice-black sky
charged, swollen, cold needle wind
God panting, hep, hep, hep.
cowboys knelt around the heifer
lying on her side, spooked eyes wide—
legs scrambling from instinct
to commit to breech birth, or die.
my grandfather having improvised
a fix, reached in to snare a hoof
w/ hook & greasy chain. then he went
& gunned the jeep—tires lurching
on cold dirt & grass. here, here, he said,
to the men & me, stand back in case
the cable snaps.
at ten-years-old,
i’d learned about the manger, halo,
& winter birth, but i was not ready
for the booger-blood ooze,
the slow slip & stick, the mother’s
shitty tail. one final drag & engine cease,
blurt of rest, red sac pierced
by bone—this babe still, its mouth a line.
Jesus Christ, a cowboy whispered
& i conjured a crucifix, unseen
among our Christmas figurines—
Mary bleeding, her infant gray,
nails beside him in the hay

Brad Henderson grew up as a city boy who summered on his granddad's ranch. The two poems published herein are from a book-length sequence entitled, The Secret Cowboy: the Life and Times of the Rebel Poet Beau Hamel. He is now a blues-rock drummer, ex-corporate engineer, and member of the writing faculty at UC Davis.