Pharaoh’s Dream

Patricia Beer

In childhood I thought of cows and dreams together
Starting from Pharaoh’s dream of seven well-favoured kine
Followed by seven other kine, lean-fleshed,
That did eat them up.

Joseph the farmer, dressy as Pharaoh, told him
At once that throughout his many-coloured land
Famine would succeed plenty, seven years of each.
Pharaoh wrung his smooth

Hands, not having considered such a meaning.
Literal in eastern daylight he could not see
Cows eating each other or being real danger.
I thought he was stupid.

I knew the red cows of East Devon.
Our branch line ran through water-meadows and they
Were always getting on the track. We knew
The times of the trains

And shooed them off. Even a child could do it.
But they did not go far. Making red footprints
In the frail grass, they mooched a few yards then turned
To face the track again.

Pharaoh only dreamed of cows. In my case
They were the dreams themselves, bad dreams
That never quitted the field though you could scatter them
Simply by waking up.

Most of them left gently but one always looked
Round with the death-rattle of a moo,
Swinging a bright chain of spittle, a torturer
Who planned to be back.