supposed to be a handshake--the usual greeting--cows in vermont

At 5 p.m. the sun’s shadow crosses half of the veranda

That’s when women begin to prepare dinner

And the boy boils water for the cows’ teats

They love a teat massage with warm water

Before one can start pulling hard for the milk

The sun is soft on my shoulders

I follow the boy to the cows shed

He stands with his cans and calls the cows

They’re 250 meters away but they hear him

Ish ish ish-ish ish ish, phi-phew, he whistles

I try it one time but the cows don’t come

Maybe they recognize fake

Hanging on their right earlobes are yellow cards

I get close thinking it’s some voice recognition software

But it’s just their ID numbers

I pick a can and go to the youngest-looking black & white

I’ve never milked a cow but after many times of watching I want to try

How else can one learn anyway?

‘Dat one kicks.’

The boy picks for me an old-looking Guernsey

She keeps whisking her tail, chasing the flies sleeping on her huge body

Her eyes don’t look friendly. They are sad, deep brown and watery

I wonder what’s making her cry

Does she miss her children?

Could she recognize them?

Would her sons and grandsons be more interested in climbing her?

How many has she got? I ask the boy

‘Four like da rest. Whatchu tink?’

The kids, I mean.

‘Want to milk her or not?’

Her teats are very long, her udder large and uneven

Like a map of the United States

I wet her teats with warm water

Relax, I talk to her

Years ago my uncle had tins of milking salve

I prefer the warm water

I’m touching, stroking, pulling softly

A tiny drop falls

‘Make sure to pull hard,’ the boy says

He knows how to apply both hands

I wonder if I should do the same

I pull the first two that look like Texas and Florida

The milk comes, not much, but it excites me

Creamy rich is the color I see

I get a liter and my arms hurt, but I’m happy

I think I’ve got all there is, I tell the boy

He finishes his cow and comes to mine

He pulls and the milk gushes out

I’m in awe. He gets about four liters

He says it used to be his best cow

checking on cows in Vermont

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