milking time . . .
a tide of cows
flows into dawn

Keitha Keyes

As soon as I read the first line, my memory flashed back to all those childhood holidays on my uncle’s dairy farm in South Gippsland, Victoria – the cows ambling in twice a day, their odour steaming from the holding yard and shed. I was given the job of fetching a billy of fresh warm milk back to the house, where cream would be separated, where butter would be churned. To a child raised in the neat suburbs, the earthy routine of farm life left a lasting impression.

This haiku leads us from the mundane to the eternal. The two merge into one and we sense the wholeness of things. Milking, of course, has been part of human activity for millennia, from the tending of nomadic flocks to the operating of high-tech dairies, yet the poet implies an even greater scope with that final word – ‘dawn’.

How apt is the word ‘tide’ to suggest not just the cows’ milk-flow or the surges in a farmer’s day, but even the image of the herd itself as it once again flows in to be milked.  And like the sea tide, it will ebb away again, emptied. The entire haiku moves at the pace of those two words – ‘tide’ and ‘flows’

Then comes the surprising word that completes the image and we behold a greater tide, as the dawn of another new day flows across the sky.

I sometimes feel that by commenting on a superb haiku I’m just being noisy and clumsy. The haiku is solely sufficient. Our role is only to be quiet – to breathe the delicate wonder of dairy cows mooing across the paddock at the start of another farm day.


First published: Windfall 6, 2018

Selection and comments by Jan Dobb

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