You’d build a fence that could hold water before it would keep in a scared goat. An animal with the unique ability to divorce itself from its vision, cast out its eyes like weighted lines, lost to woods deep as water, tangled on the bottom. A scary look, when you come invisible in the eyes of an animal staring right into you. If they had the force, those eyes would push you, and if he gets a chance, the body would too. Poor fellow. Ran headlong away from the only creatures in the world who care about him. Thinking that he needed to. Broke through wire two. Five thirty on a November night means there’s men up in the trees wearing orange hats and a gun laid across their knees. Like an arrow, like this flimsy pasture was his bow, tightly drawn and full let go. We will never see that goat again. Like a grain of sand. Flaked off and fallen. This pasture was his stone.
A creekbed drops ten feet and I can see bright green tops of adolescent trees, shaking. I just fenced a solid quarter acre of late April and let eighteen goats on it. Soaking wet morning after full rain, they’re up first thing realizing the boundaries have changed. They seem so predatory, considering they’re plant-eaters. I suppose if something can’t scream we don’t attribute it to the same value system. These bony, thick bodied and thin legged vultures rip and bark-strip their immobilized, submissive prey. Fleshy unfurled ferns and green razor wire and so much poison ivy my eyes itched.
My heart now light and airy as jack-in-the-pulpit down low in a morning breeze.
I feel vindication for the work I’ve done over the last two days.
I’m looking twice everywhere I scratch and watching new life devoured incrementally by many goats. And if I stretch my awareness a touch, I think how I’m going to drink that treeline in my coffee tomorrow morning. I feel like if the world were a perfect circle, it would have ended where it began. It didn’t. And though the earth is round, I feel nature is spiral like a sprig of DNA. It does come back around but not to the same place,
or ever the same way.
A herd of goats annihilates a creekbed
and old notions of predator and prey.
I forgot how much this work likes to graffiti your hands and wrists, and, even in the off season, we all started getting poison ivy again. I figured it out. It’s coming in with the firewood. I’ve spent hours at a time just working and lingering in my pasture, one among the herd of eleven goats, and I discovered hoof issues, an abscess, and two, at my best estimate, a week from giving birth. Five more to kid after them, fingers crossed.
I built a new chicken coop in that time. Spent eight hours cutting midsized White Oaks and tracing them with a draw-blade until they were nude and pink. Night before last, around eight fifteen, Roan was in bed, my wife and I went out and carried every one of twenty five chickens to the new coop. After having helped me with this chore, she no longer eats chicken. For now. It is an ever-intimate experience holding a helpless animal in your arms that fully believes you are about to end it. I’ve been in this game a while though. I tuck one like a football between my belly and elbow and grab the other one by its feet dangling upside down so that I can carry two at a time. I care for the animals, I do, enough to separate my humanity from their chickeninity. It’s an awkward situation. I believe until that terrible day comes, the birds really just want their basic needs met and enough space to be left alone to chicken. I built that for them. It’s the best coop I’ve ever made.
Every chore was a domino in succession. Knocking that one out freed up the next old, disgusting, decade worth of shit filled domino to fall. A half an old tractor shed sequestered off a decade ago to put chickens in. It was hard, I’m still coughing up dust that probably has particles of my grandfather in it, but at the end of the day, the goats essentially lost a disgusting neighbor, annexed and upgraded their condominium and now have a whole building to themselves, to hopefully fill it up with healthy babies.
Having land is one thing, but going out and spending time there is the only way to keep it.
Back of the throat, out through a double barrel twelve gauge nose.
Hoof smacks hard earth. And drags. Once. Twice. Three times.
Then open eyes, contact and hold. Horses. Undulation always.
Curious little tickle of a sound. Cracked opened mouth.
Pupils flat lining. Sweet feed pining.
Unhelpless hapless little mammals.
Goats. Have you heard, a herd?
Pushed around light as a plaything by one.
Whipped hard like a little boy’s baby doll.
Like you were one of them?
Another reason I love animals. No rhetorical questions.
Rhetorical anything. No rhetoric alone. Flat teeth
stained mustard roots. Bow brown. Wet chin.
Ankle thin. And thick headed.
Where there are a lot, you call them livestock.
When there are a few, you call them ‘hey you’.
Old goat. Old horsey coarse. Ye sheep.
Not something you own, but something you keep.
Live stock. Mute slave. Sit high up on a saddle
like steak stacked up on a dinner plate.
But need is need.
Regardless the animal.
Never mind the breed.
And we do, so much, and so money.
For what is a farmer now, except for fences?
And that is the ticket, isn’t it?
To answering rhetoricals.
The fallacy of believing you can own a living thing.
Simply because you keep it in a pen.
There is no freedom on either side of the fence.
Nailing up fourth walls for actors who won’t obey them.
Instincts speak ‘betray them’. Blue tarp barriers
and cold breathy chicken wire stapled over gaps.
Trying to trap heat in is as hard as keeping them.
Sharp-bearded performers with brown alpine stripes along spines.
Thick cotton fur white at the roots, or feathers stiff and bowing
against thick slow moving winter air.
Going over lines.
Talking to the world like you would chatter to yourself.
Actors enamored at no longer just hearing,
but to see the vapor of their very own breath.
I am no goat.
I make no pure living eating grass.
Or tender leaves off young trees.
But more like a scavenging dog.
I paint my teeth red.
Lay down the living into the orange clay bed of the dead.
Buried, and dig up what was already, by me, buried.
Chase flighty rodents I know I will never catch.
Stare down cotton tails who stare back black beads
embedded in the thorn-covered brush.
Consume the shit of others, and lay mine
in coiled mounds just on the cusp of my urine-marked territory.
I will consume meat, and half rotted, ant-dotted pears from off the ground.
I hold my panting breath at each distant sound,
and will spill the blood of any creature who seeks to make a meal of mine.
Dirty. Ceaselessly hungry. Curious. Covered in fleas.
Hiding plump gray lumps beneath loose ears.
I am no goat.
I am not pure.
Fit to be no God’s sacrifice.
But I make for a pretty good knife.
I am a scavenging dog. And when I come across it,
will gladly make a meal out of any red-blooded life.
Put a goat on a tie out and the farmer will watch a dumb beast tread pointless circles.
Lock it in a dense, knit-wire fence, the brute paces the same ignorantly beaten path
until the grass is dead, and stupidity scars the lawn. Do not watch too long.
Feed. Water. Checking in between, fine. But be cautious of staring at goats.
You will have funny thoughts. Same as in the head of any other domesticated.
Certain questions are going to get asked.
Like, why a fence?
Let that goat out after saying goodbye to your garden, all the bark wrapped around every crab-apple and cherry, sure to freeze next winter. A free goat is happy crossing roads, stopping cars, grazing lazily into neighboring yards.
Why does she pace that way, back and forth, steady in circles. Is it lunacy?
Precisely. All creatures, humankind included, can run only so far so fast,
no fence or chain to hold us. Before we reach mountains. Oceans.
The very verge of space outside all knowing, new and wild,
where some leap and others linger awhile.
Those are our boundaries.
You would not think to expect it, but many thoughts
never get considered without having limitations.
Without seeing through iron and restrictions.
And the lunacy you perceive,
is the domestication of questions.
Why? Correct. The question is why.
Think you’re so clever. Say why?
All right. I think you should consider going inside. There is no such thing as a fulfilling answer out here. The world is full with conclusions. Just none of them leave you satisfied. Like living in the wild. Unencumbered guile. Where a step taken in any direction is its own answer. Hunt against hunger. Medicine against sickness. Company for comfort.
The questions are different when you are tied to a stake. Closed behind a gate.
Missing a world we can never escape. We will never cease being a part,
or feel it absent, or cut it off. If it was not happening to us all the time,
everywhere, to every species, it would be called impossible.
A creature confused about its own origination to the point of denial,
believing it came from nowhere. Born into violent,
intensely lucid, vibrant creation,
somehow without parents.
So, what is it about the other side of the fence, the inside, where my new, young Alpine paces like she is going crazy. How does she view herself? Her life?
She thinks she is God. Chosen. Over a goat’s world.
Filled up buckets with perfectly comprised, completely nutritional, pellet shaped,
sugar soaked feed. Blue water spilled over silver pales, poured dirt into mud
even in drought. How the grass and the weeds and young trees are dying out.
Yet goats live on. Still pass away, each one, but out of sight.
So, to an animal, it never dies. Believing it lives forever
even as it is pushed onto the knife. A kid no mother,
no father, no purpose is calling. No horns,
or forest to solidify her deep heritage
of instinctive thinking.
She is an animal with unending questions,
false notions, and confusions regarding life.
Trapped, where all the answers are foreign, in another animal’s world.
Contained, so completely, that this circle is her only path forward.
Each egg is a long story. Refilled buckets, feed and water,
maintained roof and three tin walls, excrement in the stalls,
hay floor pens, and them, that upright gathering,
clean taupe brown and red speckled.
A farmer can tell a young bird in her first few cycles just by the dented,
stunted, oblong shape of a typically light cream almost snow white colored egg.
The health of the goat can be smelled lingering around the wealth of her udders,
enough milk and milking to make the beginners hands shudder,
taste the changing days, warming her bloated belly in the burgeoning sun,
the torn green grass and severed flesh tanned hay,
the sweet, yellow kernel dotted feed they clamor,
bellow, knocking sisters over.
The farmer lives by the first and most essential rule of writing.
Your characters are alive. Your labor suffers and hungers same as you.
For all the nuances and imbalances of your work to read,
each one must breathe, bleed, breed, heed you,
dominant call and still muster up height, courage to challenge,
search out and discover that dip below the fence,
the one section where a farmer failed to measure the top wire,
so it hangs low.
Anticipate the protrusion of some familiar mediocre star
mounting the curved unsuspecting hips of a dry horizon.
Crow for it. At it. Beating wings and cotton throat sings
every outbreak of day.
Give thanks and praise
that these planetary bodies once fucked,
and made way for yet another growing season.
Another day. Another reason to crow.
Like a farmer, plant the seeds of what you want to eat.
And like a writer, watch the stories grow.