The Wise Old Cow and the Cheerleader
I used to be a cow psychic. I commune with them. Sometimes I sing. One day a black Angus
named Nike talked back. Not visibly of course, like Mr. Ed, but with her thoughts in mine like a hand.
People probably do it with their pets, but I haven’t had any pets since I started moving around. Sixteen
times in thirteen years. Even a fish doesn’t need that. But I was evening things out: before that I lived
in one place my whole life, on the farm my mother would inherit, within spitting distance of the house
where she had grown up.
If you live in one place long enough, you can see the earth expel things. On the antique desk in
my parents’ den are arrowheads worked to the surface like a tongue-sore tooth, collected from freshplowed
fields. I watched my body push out a piece of glass that had gotten lodged in my wrist in a car
accident two years before. It was coated with a ruby pearl, which swelled under my skin like a drop of
blood. I had been reading a book on Appalachian faith healing, so I held my palm over it and breathed
My great grandmother never went to the doctor. “I don’t want no man looking up my dress,”
she said, stubborn as a lead-footed mule. If you’re going to live to ninety eight, you have to know how
to stand up for yourself. It takes a certain meanness, and in our family she was notorious for it: “mean
as a striped snake,” they said. Stubborn as a stuck drawer. But then, she raised and fed seven children
by herself on leather britches she dried on her front porch. Probably the reason I became a writer is to
scavenge linguistic creasy greens from the woods.
I forget about the failed marriages in my ancestral lineage because my parents’ marriage is so
strong, but the long arm of the law is only long if you don’t look back far. Fear runs in the limestone
water of my branching veins—of debt, of lack, of lost love. “Daddy, are we poor?” I asked my father
after my mother had been turning over at the dinner table some concern. He fanned a spread of one
hundred dollar bills before me like cards. He was in the middle of recording deposits for the insurance
agency. “Are we rich?” I followed, excited. “Rich means you don’t have to work,” he said. But I
wondered if you could love your work so much you could be rich with it. I wanted to write like I
wanted that glittering creek bed running through me to sing.
Cove Creek, which my mother’s farm was named for, was deep enough to sail in an inner tube
if the water table was up. It housed blue gill minnows and red eye bass, hellgrammites, water spiders
and mountain lobsters. I shaved my legs in that creek with my friend Khristy Barker, laughing to guess
what the kids at school would say if they knew, which they wouldn’t because growing up in the
country means having a life you never tell. We fished in Cove Creek, dammed it from bank to bank,
lifted rocks in search of bait, and parted it like two great wheels of life on either side of our ATV’s.
This land was made for you and me—another all-American Diane sucking on a chili dog outside the
Tastee Freeze. Only I never spent any time in town until I started cheering.
The two years I was co-captain with my friend Shannon, we didn’t use any of the complicated
“First Down Ten, Do it again,” cheers, unless she instigated them. I couldn’t have told a first down
from a second. But to stand before the crowd, a wall of cheerful, jeering, impermeable faces, was to
embolden myself for what hadn’t come yet. If there are enough eyes on you, you can’t be anything but
yourself—the way the white stadium lights kept humming above everything else.
Amy Wright is the Nonfiction Editor of Zone 3 Press and the author of two chapbooks, Farm (Finishing Line Press: 2010) and There Are No New Ways To Kill A Man (Apostrophe Books: 2009). My prose and poetry appear in Asymptote, Sonora Review, Bellingham Review, American Letters & Commentary, Denver Quarterly, Ribot 6: Over 60, Under 30, Quarterly West, 5x5, Grist, Crow, and The Southern Poetry Anthology, Volume III:
Southern Appalachia, among others.