He had been to count the cattle, check for signs of red water,
Had come back unsettled, running fingers through his curls at the front;
'The Angus cow is missing, her calf is hoarse with the calling.'
He spoke with the neighbours, but she'd not broken their land.
He took down the ropes, some men climbed into the tractor,
The rest following on foot, heading for the bog
Where a hole had likely sucked her under.
Waiting for the number 84 bus on Eden Quay
Those in the queue watched a man the other side of the river
Deliberately climb on the wall and loop a rope over the nearest tree.
A chorus of intaken breaths and sweet Jesuses
As he looped the other end round his neck.
He spread his arms out wide like the statue above Rio
And silently, without looking at us, or recriminating,
He plunked into the river,
The white rope spooling above him in the eddying murk.
They'd spread out in a line, each in sight of two others
Trying not to let the bog know they were there.
A plodding, careful task, till he held up his hand and they heard it -
A breathy whine drawn up from her empty stomach.
They moved with less care and found her,
One hoof anchoring uselessly at the edge,
Her head strained back, eyes dilated and nostrils widely snuffling.
She was suckered to the moving ground.
They looped a rope over her crown and exposed hoof,
Lined out behind it and tugged hard, digging heels into peat.
She didn't resist, flailing and bucking,
Flinging muck all over, like a summer day sport.
At the end, she came out on her side, limp and nervy.
He let her rest for a while, then walked her back to the field,
And back to her calf;
Relief speaking in the loosening of his jaw.
Someone called the fire brigade, an ambulance.
The man's head was slamming at the river wall.
Two firemen, all safe in life-vests, climbed down a ladder
Caught his sodden arm and dragged his lumpy body,
Bump, bump, over the rungs to the ledge.
They cut the rope and stretchered him into the ambulance, shaking their heads.
A man in the queue spoke first,
'What a waste of their fucking time.'