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Reo by Jeanne Scroggs

“Many torturers adopted the posture of a doctor or surgeon.  Like the Chicago economists with their painful but necessary shock treatments, these interrogators imagined that their electroshocks and other torments were therapeutic – that they were administering a kind of medicine to their prisoners, who were often referred to inside the camps as apestosos, the dirty or diseased ones. They would heal them of the sickness that was socialism, of the impulse toward collective action.”

- Naomi Klein
The Shock Doctrine

In the hayloft dust mites spin like lost souls
in a horrid mouth.  In the birthing pen
below straw spills like an idiots’s tongue
Picasso face with Faulkner mind.  In the
grain room ice-light falls like daggers onto
sweet corn.  Cobwebs thick with grain dust hang
like lamp tassels in a Haversham house.
Pale blue in cloud-quiet an improbable
spirit in white day of silence broken
by nuclear echoes of wind-driven
tin.  In sapphire snows she vanishes, ghost white,
seeps into the cement hall.  Insolent
motion begins pulsing vacuum milkers
throb stop, throb stop, throb stop, throb stop, throb stop
more cows, more cows, careful of them teat ends
good help, good help, good help is hard to find.
Silver bulk tank looms, dwarfs outer room
as crooked calf butts metal belly, bleating
as red and yellow river of scours trails
across his rocking shadow.  Reo has come:
watery, querulous wasting.  She
whispers, ‘you’re gonna die’ with deep throat
kneels and smooths his head.  He suckles her hand.
Hushed showers of gold, grain pours, fills shiny
hoppers.  Deep murmurs gather behind green
doors.  Day hangs like sword shafts from high dormers.
She filters light like aging gauze, rimmed in
mists of her own breath, canticles cling to
elflocks, echoes lie on her shoulders like
a shawl.  A slow frozen dance, the milking,
has begun.  ‘Move up, ladies,” she lows.  Large,
mottled with manure, blowing visible
breath, they enter with her same reluctant
weighted grace.  Gray-haloed eyes darken in
the shade of her pale blue hood, dry cracks on
her lips are set in stone.  She grasps slender
tube between her teeth like a rose, nervous
heifer by a tail; it backs her to the
door.  ‘Hi, hi,” she chants through the tube, ‘hi, hi,”
eerie and effective, her hand inside
the awkward dancing heifer, scoops pus-and-blood
handfuls of diseased uterus sizzle
on cement and stench overcomes the air
mingles with sweet winter wind slipping ‘neath
the door.  Rhythmic and practiced, the tube finds
her palm as she pumps till it bursts, stinging
iodine in her eyes shuts one eye and
struggles to regain the tube, bursts into
sideways snarling smile, aching eye, clenched lips
caught on dry gums above yellow crusted
teeth as the heifer limps out the door, tail
rigid and bent.  She gathers the jug in
her arms like a child; Good help, good help, good
help is hard to find.

Truck flies past on snow-slick road, tosses up
birds like leaves from a hand.  Hunched against
December winds she passes through croaking
gate to stop amid twisted metal shards,
stands staring at a pile of stiff entwined
bodies.  Like a curious bird her eyes
follow the black gaze skyward then back to
the grimaced thrusting teeth.  She frowns, ponders
in her heart; she kneels as wet seeps through cotton
patches, searches starless sky of dead eye
in a sunset-reddened calf frozen in
the earth.  Streaks of light lay upon the snow,
yellow edges and red and blue collide
in the beams.  She sighs, gathers snow full of
colored light in her hand and in her mind’s
eye sunset pours through tall red and blue saints
high rigid lines of agony above
her head, flooding her cheek and blinding the
priest at Vigil Mass, those who longed for death
stayed forever, Giotto-eyed, soul wounds
so deep to stare across thousands of years.
Stroking the rim of dog-chewed jaw sprinkled
with snow like a confection, she knew, it
remained in the soil, part of future’s food,
mingling in tap water, disease on a
fine-boned dust of earth, sped by gentle breezes,
carried about on feet of the unwashed.
She slips the small, wet rise to calf hutches
and they emerge from slanted shanties to
jostle at the edges of wire, bleating,
sides sucked in so thin inner linings touch.

The last calf sucks the bottle cradled in
her leaden arm, butting into her, shakes
her soft, unnoticed, as she stares into
an orange sun embedded in a wide
lavender horizon, thrills at final
flaring trapped in her eyes.  She shudders against
blasts of gusting sky.  She taps the calf’s nose
with absent-minded fingers full of the
unconscious moisture of disease, closes
her eyes that sting and spill splash down her cheeks
as icy wind whips and tears trickle in
her ears:  who would love her now?  Mary, who
loved the sky.  In a darkness behind her
eyes a girl lay in the myrrh-scented halo
of a lamp upheld.  Behind it stranger’s
eyes tense with wonder.  There is a lovely
sighing song like a soul spilling through
reed.  Air stirs as though laden with wings and
the girl’s head is turning.  She bites a chapped
thin lip with delicate tooth, smiles brief smile,
gently dimpled.  How sweet the corners of
her mouth had turned.  She traces lips now with crusted work gloves, tangible air enfolding, seething,
alive.  She reaches into the faint, fine seethe*,
amazed but not afraid and sun falls to
the sound of air as the last calf sucks an
empty bottle, pale blue china figure
rocking sharp with each urgent incessant
blow.  Tremors of wet light in her eyes, she
murmurs, ‘you’re gonna die,’ pressing the
close hair on the forehead as the jaws clench,
the body jerks in aborted strength and
she smiles, gazing at the snow purple in
twilight.  She cups air, offers it up in
steady, ghost-cold palms, offers up creased
remnants of a dog-eared soul, dips her head
as the desperate gaze burns her pale skin
red.  ‘Be brave.  There are so many ways to
die.’  Her eyes, heavy-lidded, fill with a
bitter glaze as it begins to snow and
lights explode into life and holiday
color chases magical round house and
barn as the vacuum milkers throb and stop. 

Jeanne Scroggs is a poet, essayist, and artist currently residing in Winterset, IA. She can be reached at

*from “A Young Wife” by D.H. Lawrence