Chila Woychik: “So What Do You Think About Cows, or, A Lingering Grief”

So What Do You Think About Cows, or, A Lingering Grief

Words are like nets – we hope they’ll cover what we mean, but we know they can’t possibly hold that much joy, or grief, or wonder. Jodi Picoult, Change of Heart

We’ve carted this grief halfway around the world but now I’m calling dibs. She slipped out in the early dawn, dropped her light, love dried up. Did some things she can’t take back, but none of it matters now. In what world does it turn out this way? In what world does a mother die, stroked out in days of remembering? Months have turned to years because perception stains reality.

I’ve been trying to understand a love of elephants. Mother had them all: figurines, jade replicas, earrings, all visual indications of her dire enchantment with the earth’s largest land-dwelling pachyderm.

Who knows what these times are, these latter days of reminiscence and grasping for a few more hours to feel young and vital? Maybe that’s it. The ageless cues of the elephant, virile long after so much time would minimize other beasts. “They never forget,” she would say. And maybe this drove into her heart some replica of remembering, of not forgetting the secrets she held so boxed and heavy. If I could have a last conversation, I would ask her why.

Life glories in spanking us in the face, on one side, grief, the other, awe. Grief is waking in the middle of the night and forgetting where you put the flashlight. It’s that constant scraping against a dark window, a hard rain shouldering the earth and not letting up before the creeks rise too high.

I wonder if she did all she wanted to do. If not regrets, were her memories unbridled, a rampaging elephant in the wild? Or were they shoved into a musty corner, shackled lest they run amuck and trample her life’s spoken narrative? Not all secrets can be corralled forever, and forgiveness covers with blankets of love: these were the last lessons I learned from her.

Grief settles in low places, in hollows and dry creek beds, and everything stays the same until it doesn’t. Huddled in a field, two farmers made a pact. “We’ll call it harvest,” one says, patting her stomach. “We’ll call it profit,” the other says, stroking his wallet. We’re teaching everyone these days. One big whoopie. It all runs together, a jumble of seconds clacking toward meaning and a sudden sunset. The girls you knew in school, those boys, the teachers and lessons now gone, and there’s a reunion coming up. When did we get so sad?

Outside my doors, a field of lowing cattle. Love hurts, it’s true, but what about those cows? Sometimes we’ve earned the right to be eccentric, to embrace the unusual and harbor admiration. Living’s our excuse, the grief, the awe. And even, sometimes, the cows.


Chila Woychik is originally from the beautiful land of Bavaria. She has been published in Cimarron, Passages North, and elsewhere, and has published Singing the Land: A Rural Chronology (Shanti Arts, 2020). She won Storm Cellar’s 2019 Flash Majeure Contest and Emry’s 2016 Linda Julian Creative Nonfiction Award.  

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