Dust rises around the worn ankles of the fence. The calves have thin legs, and they carry their ribs like airy birdcages. Hardpacked dirt lines the yard. The sky is the color of bathwater. It gives an illusion of gray, but there is no color to it. No clouds mark the sky. Trees don’t break the expanse. The sky is high and forever. It is a colorless tent. Cowlicks line the spines of the boxy calves, and a light wind combs the hair. The calves stand in groups, flexing their ankles and pawing at the ground with their hooves. Their ears flap like wings beside their eyes, and their tails switch at flies.
The calves have been separated from their mothers recently. They are bottle fed. The milk is cool and thick, and the calves cannot drink until their bellies hang low. They don’t rest their foreheads on their mothers’ strong side. They take short walks around the yard, lowing quietly.
In the barn, the cows’ necks are caught up in green cages. They stand on metal. Their breasts are round, and a sheen of sweat lights their flanks. Machines begin to hiss, and the lines run white. The cows unfurl their tongues, and tiny gray birds fly from between the long pink curl. Thin beaks pull the birds into flight, and the barn’s eaves fill with drumming wings. The cows eat grain. The small birds fly to the barnyard in a straight line. Calves prick their ears and flutter their nostrils. Beating wings fill the sky. The birdcages shake, and the tolling of the metal resounds in the barnyard. The calves’ wide eyes are intent even as they realize that the drumming wings are carrying the birds out from under the tent and away from the barnyard.