We come across a ridge and hear
a cowbell in the cove beyond,
a tinkle sweetening the air
with vague rubato as the breeze
erases tones and then the notes
resume like echoes from the past
or from a cave inside the cliff,
a still, calm voice in dialect
and keeping its own company,
both out of time and long as time,
both here and from a higher sphere,
as if the voice of history
were intimate as memory.
~Robert Morgan “Cowbell”
Over my head, I see the bronze butterfly,
Asleep on the black trunk,
Blowing like a leaf in green shadow.
Down the ravine behind the empty house,
The cowbells follow one another
Into the distances of the afternoon.
To my right,
In a field of sunlight between two pines,
The droppings of last year’s horses
Blaze up into golden stones.
I lean back, as the evening darkens and comes on.
A chicken hawk floats over, looking for home.
I have wasted my life.
~James Wright “Lying in a Hammock at William Duffy’s Farm in Pine Island, Minnesota”
One of the lullabies I remember hearing as a youngster were cowbells in the pasture outside my bedroom window on our family farm. Each of our three milking Guernsey cows wore a bell on her neck so my dad could tell where they were in our wooded field. He’d whistle and call “Come Bossy!” and they would walk single file into the barn, ringing and tinkling with each step, for their twice daily grain and hand-milking.
When I was old enough, I liked to perch on top of their bony backs while my dad leaned his head into their flank, whistling a tune while he milked them, the steaming stream of milk hitting the metal bucket with a high-pitched whine. The bells on their necks still chimed as the cows chewed, moving their heads up and down to finish their meal.
This was divine music that soothed and reassured me. All was right with the world, thanks to the cows and their intrinsic tunes created by their movements, as if they were created to charm their keepers. There are moments when I believe we are hearing what heaven must sound like.
Now, sixty five years later, the soft harmony of cowbells has been replaced by the random chords of wind chimes hanging outside our house. The memory of cowbell music remains a reminder: I have not wasted my life if I can taste heaven through such simple things and magical moments.
But I still need more cowbell…
This year’s Lenten theme:
So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.
2 Corinthians 4: 18
and because there is always a need for more cowbell…