It Wasn’t the Meat They Missed by Caroline Barnes

People hadn’t eaten it for years. The last cow had long since died of old age. Food scientists had replicated it so well even a connoisseur couldn’t tell the difference. Fake steak bled when pierced with a fork, plastic bones could be washed and returned to the store. Feedlots had been covered over with tract housing, slaughterhouses gutted and turned into lofts.

It was, instead, the moo they missed. Everywhere, Karaoke bars played Old McDonald Had a Farm as tipsy patrons sang a moo-moo here, a moo moo there. The bellow of a bull gored by a matador was used in a horn popular with long-distance truckers. Cattle cars were rolled into museums; visitors crowded inside pressed a button to make the car rock, another to pipe in sounds of brawling. Linguists studied the language of cows, opened schools to keep it alive – a moo for love, a moo for rage, a moo for the calf that was taken away.

Sometimes through an open window, a whole family could be heard lowing, perhaps at dinner or over homework, and passersby would stop to listen, sometimes swaying a little, sometimes wrapping themselves in their arms, holding in the ache for a little while before moving on.


Caroline Barnes is the managing editor of a science journal for middle school teachers and lives in Maryland. Her poetry has been published in Rattle.

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