Saint Cow

submitted by Karl Patten.

The hydrogen bomb they mistakenly

Dropped on Albuquerque in 1957

Raised no mushroom cloud

Over the white oaks of New Mexico.


           The poplars they atomized

            In ’45 is another story.


The bomb only hollowed out

One big new crater

And killed one cow.


– How wrong to say one.


That soft cow, lazing in her field,

Settled down under her sun,

Milked and ready for milking,

Brown eyes thinking about

That greenish patch over there

And water in the old bathtub,

Always flicking away for now,

Never flicking away forever

Irky flies from her rear-end,

Chomping so easily her cud,

Broad mouth drooling,


Is all of us.


I canonize her: Saint Cow.

Martyr: to the mistakes of those

Who do and know not what they do.

Feast Day: May 22.

Emblem: five full teats.


from The Impossible Reaches

by Karl Patten

Commentary: This poem was touched off by a one paragraph squib at the bottom of a newspaper column, telling just the facts as narrated. That was probably in 1977, and my guess is that some regulation forced the Air Force to divulge its horrible mistake. It was certainly before 1980, when I read it at Kent State at an event memorializing the students shot ten years before – another horrible military mistake.

But, obviously, the fact that jumped at me was the killing of one cow, as that little article said, as if that were nothing. To me, however, that cow was a living being and one at perfect peace with the world. If it had been one woman or one man, what would the Air Force have said – “collateral damage”? I felt that a cow deserved canonization and proceeded to do so. The date was May 22, and the cow was a genuine martyr.


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