Carolyn Dahl

Carolyn Dahl was the Grand Prize winner in the 2015 Public Poetry/MFAH national ekphrastic poetry competition, ARTlines2. Her essays and poems have been published in twenty-five anthologies including Women On Poetry (McFarland), Goodbye, Mexico (Texas Review Press), Bearing the Mask (Dos Gatos), Beyond Forgetting (Kent State), and in various literary journals including Copper Nickel, Plainsongs, Camas, Hawaii Review, Colere, Sojourn, and Pirene’s Fountain. She has received grants from the Texas Commission on the Arts; residencies to Hedgebrook, the Vermont Studio Center, and the Writers’ Colony at Dairy Hollow; and won a finalist award from PEN Texas in nonfiction.

Also a visual artist, Carolyn has shown her work in museums and national galleries, been a guest artist on HGTV and PBS television programs, has taught and lectured around the country, and has authored two art books: Transforming Fabric (F&W Books) and Natural Impressions (Watson-Guptill Publications-NYC), and is the co-author of The Painted Door Opened, poems and art. www.carolyndahlstudio.com

Inspired by the painting: Coastal Scene with Shipping and Cattle by Thomas Gainsborough

One cow separates herself from the herd,
stretches her neck, too far if you grewß
up hugging cows.  She stands on a cliff,
which our timid, clumsy animals would
never do, and points her horns toward
incoming ships. This is a fictional cow,
artifice from a painter’s brush, yet the way
she lifts her head, smells the sea air, seems
real, as if she thinks she’s come to the end
of fences, senses a reward of salt.

Once I sailed away on the broad back of a pet cow
brown as this one. We were unpartable shadows,
inventing our shapes in the summer creek,
splashing through ripples of tadpoles, pushing
against the current, believing we were going
somewhere, but eventually flowing back home,
happy and wet as the newly-hatched frogs
singing from the tip of her dripping tail.

Under the museum lights, the cow vanishes
in the glare of varnish as if its thinly painted
body needed to escape from the intensity
of eyes. My cow never returned from the dark
barn of profit.  How I miss the weight of her
on our land. I thought she would always be there
like a childhood dress I imagine I can still wear.  

I left the calm mythology of farms, never expected
to see her again, safe in a gold frame. Other people
pass by quickly.  It’s only a painting of a cow
and clouds, nothing they need to reclaim. I should
move on too. The guard is growing uneasy. He
doesn’t know this is my memory pinned to the wall,
that I am riding the warm back of a sweet cow,
coaxing her down the dangerous cliff to the edge

of the painting where we jump the frame’s fence.