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Real Deal Elegy

by Ron Tobey

After a year of indecision

I loaded RD in our small aluminum livestock trailer

bumper hitched to our 2005 Chevy 2500 pickup

for Saturday afternoon’s auction in Narrows Virginia.

The holding pens were beneath the amphitheater

a maze of alleys dimly lighted by dirt-caked bulbs

hanging from low ceilings of structural beams

shadows merging with manure in darkness.

Above half of the pens hung crisscrossing plank catwalks

for buyers to examine sale animals below.

Far from fields familiar

cattle looed in fear

reluctant to get into pens

segregating them Into selling lots.


RD jumped out of the trailer, walked through an adjacent heavy gate

that handlers instantly closed, a vestibule,

where he waited while I registered him.

He had to follow a blind alleyway

through two 90-degree bends

to the gated weigh station.

Maze walls were six feet high four feet apart

made of 2x6 planks screwed to 8-inch wood posts spaced at four feet.

He sniffed the aromas listened to the distress

hundreds of cows and calves dozens of bulls

penned in the stockyard’s nether world

dirt floors soaking manure

urine heavy with stress hormones,

who knows listening to distressed cows

what conflicting thoughts

careened In his brain

his life’s job to protect.

He did not want to leave the pen.


A half dozen livestock handlers got out electric shock prods,

stood on benches outside the walls

a fortress above the unsuspecting captive.

Standing near the registration room and weigh pen

I shouted out


            don’t use the prods

                        for God’s sake

                                    don’t use the prods

                                                he’ll go by himself


Stabbed from all directions

RD instantly became angry.

Raging, he knew now the battle, the attacks,

he bashed himself against the planks

backed up only to encounter a fence of shock prods

propelling his two-tons of bulk against forward walls

challenging their strength with his 1-inch thick skull.

Fear twisted bored faces of auction staff.

Management suddenly announced on loudspeaker

all visitors and most helpers, high school farm boys

earning weekend spending money, must leave the holding pen area.

Testing the dark RD ran into the right alley

through alley turns and runways

Into the weighing cage.

Handlers quickly closed the gate to keep him on the weigh platform.

He turned around to escape the way he came.

He charged the heavy gate, lowering his head,

lifted the gate, ripping it off hinges

throwing It over an alley wall.

A small crowd near me ran away.

I stood alone as RD charged the maze walls near me.

If he had tried to climb them

he would have towered over me by four feet.

I called out to him repeatedly

loudly so he could recognize my voice.

He stopped at the wall directly in front of me,

Panting, a cloak of white froth coating his chest.

I talked to him


            It’ll be alright

                        I’m here

                                    It’ll be alright


I reached up over the wall stroked his head

he knew my smell, began to calm down.

Several farmers returned to stand behind me.

Both six feet tall, full white beards, farm labor bulk beneath

Manure stained jean coveralls with suspenders.

One said, over and over, talking to RD


            Do what daddy says

                        Listen to daddy

                                    Do what daddy says


Then RD slowly walked back to the vestibule pen.

Management decided to bring a cow into the pen with him.

A few minutes later an old dairy cow entered

his flehmen response kicked in.

She immediately began to walk the maze to the weigh station.

She had been through it earlier.

He followed, nose near the cow’s vulva.

They were weighed together, then he released.


Several hours later,

When staff guided him through the maze

by opening and closing doors and gates

to the auction sell floor

I expected further frantic bull behavior,

but not - no handlers, no prods.

Calmly into the ring he alone walked

at the bottom of the stadium seating.

He chose the center, looked around,

Stood still and posed, as for photographs.

Several farmers audibly gasped.

The auctioneer drove bidding,

A price was found.

An exit door in the ring wall opened,

Real Deal slowly walked out.

The farmer who bought him said to me,

Thank you.

About the Author

Ron Tobey lives in West Virginia where he and his wife raise cattle and keep horses, goats, and a dog and cat.

From the Editor:

This poem is the final chapter of earlier poems by Ron which you can find here.

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