Bird and Cows

By on Jan 7, 2013 in Poetry

Cows in nighttime pasture with music notes

Poem inspired by the Ken Burns film, “Jazz.”

Someone has told him, half in jest, that cows
Are very fond of music. Now the “Bird,”
Car idling in a midnight pasture, blows
Cool alto sax for an astonished herd.
Bewildered livestock turn their gaze horn-ward,
The jazz man’s leaning figure doubled in
The turgid depths of bovine eyes, each chord
A galaxy poised waiting to begin.
The horn’s unfurling cry is almost human,
Decries the agony of what it means
To be a cow — and what to be a man —
What grand improvisations lie between.
The onyx sky transcribes ascending bars
Brilliant with crisp arpeggios of stars.


Born in Michigan in 1957, Robert Lavett Smith grew up in northern New Jersey, in a suburb of New York. Since 1987, he has lived in San Francisco, where for the past thirteen years he has worked as a Special Education Paraprofessional for the San Francisco Unified School District. He holds an M.A. in creative writing from the University of New Hampshire, where he studied with Charles Simic and Mekeel McBride. In 1982, he studied with Galway Kinnell, as a member of the Master Class at the 92nd Street Y in New York City. He is the author of four small-press chapbooks, and most recently, of a full-length collection, Everything Moves With A Disfigured Grace (Alsop Review Press, 2006). All of these are free verse works. A collection of his sonnets, Smoke In Cold Weather, is forthcoming by the Full Court Press.