The Wild Cattle of Swona Island, Orkney

by Kate Newmann

They’ve lived there for years, the aurox,
Since the last inhabitants left them
With the island, casting off
Into the fierce conflicting tides.

Two bulls, four calves and six cows
Roam the boggy fields,
Hoof-prints like runes
Across abandoned acres.

Once a year, a vet makes the journey.
He watches them from a distance,
The way a cow rests the bulk
Of her ribcage on the soggy earth.

The way the last boat,
Bleached on the rucked shore,
Arcs its empty ballast,
Holes worn through by scratching hides.

The days fall away like rust flakes
Off the useless gates. Their breath
Meets the mizzled air in currents
As unreadable as the ocean’s drowning pull;

Wind rough-tongues their eyes and ears
Like a calf being cleaned.
They are the part of us – warm-breathing –
That will always return, that never left.