#551: POOR COW
I have something going on with this cow. It is not an affair of the kind that would have me enter the building the cow is housed in and reach out to touch her solid face, trace the expression of resignation while she continues to look peripherally at the withered indoor tree. I prefer to look at her from the other side of the glass wall whose green tint stains her the colour of sea glass.
I don't see the cow often. I prefer to forget her and then be surprised all over again by her tired grace and delicate heft. I like looking at her through the window and being unable to touch her. It is this that makes looking at her so poignant. With her on the other side and I reflected in the window, we appear to experience a palpable isolation together while existing right out in the open, here but miles away, one foot in the next dimension. Her untouchability is what bonds me to idea of her. If she were alive, we would recognize ourselves in each other and nod heads in mutual acknowledgement without ever saying hello.
As it is, she sits on one side of the glass, acknowledging nothing directly, taking a sideways glance at the bare tree and the passersby outside. When I kneel on the concrete outside to take her photograph, a dark evening shadow moves across her nose, and the camera sees less of her.
When I was only nine or ten years old, my mother sat at my feet with her arms wrapped around my legs and told me that I felt too much, that my life had the potential to be so hard because of it. I remember looking at the top of her head and experiencing surprise that she even felt the need to say this out loud. It was a fact so obvious. It was like she had made a statement about the greenness of the grass. I told her that I would be fine and patted her shoulder. Lies like that came easily to me when I was younger. I was a child of very little faith.
Now, I am an adult who emotionally identifies with bovine metal sculptures in bank lobbies. I forget that my looking at that cow and her apparent circumstances does not make her a potent metaphor for my own existence. There is no inherent meaning in her gaze. Her isolation, her seeming separateness, the resignation described by her posture, her place in that drab tableau with the declining tree: these are impressions inspired by an object. She is, in fact, an it. There is no relationship between the tree, the sculpture, and the enclosing glass wall aside from a spatial one. The sculpture is not lost or alone or suffering any degree of existential anxiety or sudden pangs of nihilism. It is not even a cow. It is a sculpture that was sculpted to resemble a cow, even if it does bear a strong likeness to a cow that is dispassionately enduring its lot.
And yet, I am compelled to revisit this photograph again and again. I think simple thoughts about how green she looks in the watery light through the window, how large on that granite floor. I imagine her alive and huffing warm breath through her nostrils. I imagine that her separateness has made her wise. I imagine that there is something in this image for me, a thing to be puzzled out, a truth so clear it will rush out at me like a cold wind. I imagine that this is magic I am watching: she is suspended inside a perpetually occurring juncture in which there is only waiting and suffering us who dodge helter-skelter beyond the glass.
She is at once bleak and alluring. Poor cow.