Cows Under a Tree

There is a shadow round the tree;
It shelters seven cows and me.
The seven cows have fourteen eyes,
Which view me with a grave surmise.
Three legs, they think, would be too few;
how does this creature stand on two?

There are, or so I calculate,
Some thirty legs among us eight-
Say, three legs and three-quarters each.
The mathematics that they teach
Must be in some respects awry-
One leg and seven-eighths per eye?

I clutch with an uneasy hand
The average legs on which I stand,
And find them two, and find them whole,
which findings much relieve my soul,
the only one (so say the wise)
that lurks behind our sixteen eyes.

R. P. LISTER
THE NEW YORKER
OCTOBER 25, 1958

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The Serpent’s Gallstone

(A graduate of Manchester University looks back.)

I STUDIED in a dark Victorian pile,
Murky with yellow lamps by mocking day.
In its black courtyard- wrenched from the stiff clay
When it was built- a stone, the shade of bile,
Stood on a plinth, like a blunt- ended style
Pointing obliquely at the sodden grey.
“that is the Serpent’s Gallstone,” we would say
To the rare stranger, with a crooked smile.

For thus our motto ran: Be ye as wise
As serpents and as innocent as doves.
And so we learned all manner of strange lies;
We tasted gall in all our early loves,
Darkened our thoughts to match the darkened skies,
And, if our hands were clean, wore dirty gloves.

R. P. LISTER
PUNCH, June 18 1958

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