The Wild Cattle of Swona Island, Orkney

by Kate Newmann

They’ve lived there for years, the aurox,
Since the last inhabitants left them

With the island, casting off

Into the fierce conflicting tides.

 

Two bulls, four calves and six cows

Roam the boggy fields,

Hoof-prints like runes

Across abandoned acres.

 

Once a year, a vet makes the journey.

He watches them from a distance,

The way a cow rests the bulk

Of her ribcage on the soggy earth.

 

The way the last boat,

Bleached on the rucked shore,

Arcs its empty ballast,

Holes worn through by scratching hides.

 

The days fall away like rust flakes

Off the useless gates. Their breath

Meets the mizzled air in currents

As unreadable as the ocean’s drowning pull;

 

Wind rough-tongues their eyes and ears

Like a calf being cleaned.

They are the part of us – warm-breathing –

That will always return, that never left.