An Excerpt from The Book of the Dunn Cow

27 01 2009

This is from the chapter “Chauntecleer’s prayer is met by one thing, John Wesley’s rage by another.” its lengthy but beautiful.

“You, God,” Chauntecleer finally said; but his iron body did not move. His muscles were taut wire. Had someone touched him at that moment, he would have spun and murdered him.

“You, God, promise-then break promises,” he said. “You give. You warm me to your gift. You cause love to go out of me to your gift-and then you kill me. You kill my gift.

“I did not want this land. I would just as soon have traveled my way, taken what came to me by chance and left the rest. I would just as soon have gone a-mucking through this world of yours unnoticed, untouched by-your-righteous-hand. Then i may been empty, but not bereft; I didn’t know what blessing you had it in you to offer. Then i may have been alone, but not lonely. I didn’t know what love you could ordain. You, God! You took me out of my life! You set me into this false place. You made me believe you. You gave me hope! O my God, you taught me to hope! And then you killed me.”

Chauntecleer trembled where he stood. He closed his eyes against the darkness to control the trembling-not because he thought his words were wicked; simply because he did not want to tremble before God.

“If I had never had sons, how could I lose sons? If I had never ruled a land, how could I fear to lose the land? It is in giving that treachery begins. If I had never loved these animals, which the almighty God put into my keeping, I would not die thinking that they might die.

“But by your will I am where I am. By your will things are what they are. Now by my will I demand to hear it from your own mouth: Where are my sons? Why is Pertelote weeping underneath me in the Coop? And what am I to say to her? Bear them, bless them, watch them; then ball them into tiny balls and stuff them in the earth! I’ll tell her. She’ll be comforted. I’ll tell her of the will of God.”

Chauntecleer drove hot air deep into his lungs. He roared: “And by my will I demand to know now-it is most certainly time now to know: O God, where are you? Why have you hidden your face from us? Why now, of all times, when things are on the rim of disaster, have you turned away? Nine months! I have not seen the stars for nine months! In nine months we have not seen a single passing of the sun, and the moon is only a memory. Faith, right? By faith I should believe that the spheres still turn above these everlasting clouds. Tell me! Tell me! Infinite God, tell me what we have done to be shut from the rest of the universe! But you won’t tell me. You’ve dropped us in a bucket and let us be. It wears a person out, you know. Yeah, well.”

Then the Rooster did move. His head sank between his shoulders. His wings drooped. He broke into tears. “My sons, my sons,” he wept. “Why didn’t God let me die instead of you?”

Chautecleer sobbed several moments together. Then he spoke in another voice, without raising his head.

“Aye. He wills that I work his work in this place. Indeed. I am left behind to labor. Right.

“And one day he may show his face beneath his damnable clouds to tell me what that work might be; what’s worth so many tears; what’s so important in his sight that it needs to be done this way…

“O my sons!” Chautecleer suddenly wailed at the top of his lungs, a light flaring before it goes out: “How much I want you with me!”

The dark land everywhere held still, as if on purpose before such a ringing, echoing cry. The dark sky said nothing. The Rooster, with not an effort to save himself, sagged, rolled down the roof, slipped over the edge of the Coop, and fell heavily to the ground. Wind and sobs together were knocked out of him; he lay dazed.

And then it was that the Dun Cow came to him.

She put her soft nose against him, to nudge him into a more peaceful position. Gently she arranged his head so that he might clearly see her. Her sweet breath went into his nostrils, and he assumed that he woke up; but he didn’t move. The Dun Cow took a single step back from the Rooster, then, and looked at him.

Horns strangely dangerous on one so soft stood wide away and sharp from either side of her head.

Her eyes were liquid with compassion-deep, deep, as the earth is deep. Her brow knew his suffering and knew, besides that, worlds more. But the goodness was that, though this wide brow knew so much, yet it bent over his pain alone and creased with it.

Chauntecleer watched his own desolation appear in the brown eyes of the Cow, then sink so deeply into them that she shuddered. Her eyes pooled as she looked at him. The tears rose and spilled over. And then she was weeping even as he had wept a few minutes ago-except without the anger. Strangely, Chauntacleer felt an urge to comfort her; but at this moment he was no Lord, and the initiative was not in him. A simple creature only, he watched-felt-the miracle take place. Nothing changed: The clouds would not be removed, nor his sons returned, nor his knowledge plenished. But there was this. His grief had become her grief, his sorrow her own. And though he grieved not one bit less for that, yet his heart made room for her, for her will and wisdom, and he bore the sorrow better.

The Dun Cow lay down next to the Rooster and spent the rest of the night with him. She never spoke a word, and Chauntecleer did not sleep. But for a little while they were together.

At dawn Chauntecleer crowed lauds; and then he went alone into his Coop.