When the cows come home

by maggi dawn

This week’s conversations have ranged around a number of topics, but two ideas collided and have continued to inspire me.

I spent 3 days this week teaching about poetry and song lyric at our ISM poetry conference, a subject I always warm to and invariably am inspired by.  Along the way I had a long conversation with a friend about how in the middle of your life, you can suddenly find yourself wondering whether you lost your way or missed your calling, and whether it’s too late to do anything about it. And a poem came to mind–not only because it exactly speaks to this point, but because the poet, Patricia Fargnoli, published her first book of poems at the grand age of 62.

(I love stories like this! Both Dostoevsy and Mark Twain were in their mid-40s when their writing began to see the light of day. Laura Ingalls Wilder, of Little House on the Prairie fame, began writing at the age of 44, and worked freelance on short articles for some years, but her first book wasn’t published until she was 64. Daniel Defoe finished writing Robinson Crusoe just before he turned 60, and Mary Wesley famously had her first publishing success at 70.)

Back to Fargnoli’s poem, though. We have so many phrases in the English language to label that vague feeling that what we hope for will never take place.  Hell will freeze over before this or that thing happens; this year, next year, sometime, never is a phrase of helpless procrastination or sorry despair. And how often have you waited for something until the cows come home? Which, of course, they never do–except in Fargnoli’s hopeful, redemptive imagination:

When Will the Cows Come Home?
~Patricia Fargnoli

When the river freezes over and the pot boils
When the cat leaves the corner, when the tulips leave the bed

After absence has made your heart grow fonder
After apples have fallen far from the tree

Where the village is sleeping, the cows will come to the barn
Swishing their long tails, nodding their heads

If you have been waiting too long, the cows will come for you
If you believe in cows, they will come to your hand

If you hold out sweet grass in the late afternoon’s last hour
From the greener pastures, they will surely come to you

After what has gone around, must come around,
They will come home

After the cat’s nine lives are through and the dog’s bone is buried
After the wishbone’s been broken and the turkey’s been eaten

Go with the flow of the river, the cows will come home
After your actions have spoken louder than words

Before all good things have come to an end
Before all the bridges have burned

The cows will come home

If the rolling stone has gathered its moss and is still
If the salt has been thrown over the barn’s shoulder

All things come to those who wait
Cometh the hour, cometh the cows

Better late than never, everything in its own good time
The cows will come home

To your barn shaking their bells
They will come home to you

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