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Category: Brigit Pegeen Kelly

Sheep Child

I wanted a child. What then, this? The sheep

Stands dumb behind the fence. Stands dumb.

Demanding what? Pity? Affection? A breast full

Of milk? He’s up to his neck in his filthy fur.

Honey to the flies. Rancid honey. Each coarse

Curl dipped in it. The flies reeling. A sullen

Moment…Oh, Sheep, Sheep, this is my undoing.

That you have a thought and I would read it. I would

Put my head up to your smelly head and watch

The pretty pictures sliding past: Look! There goes

The flowerless larch, lurching over the ground

Like a skiff. And that black thing spinning in the dung

Is a truck tire stuffed with hay. And here, now,

Down from the elm, comes the crow, bully bird

Beating and beating the air with his wide wings,

As if calling the field to order…There is no order.

What day of the week is this? Wash day?

Bake day? What hour of what day?…Behind you,

Flanked by steely thistle, stands the old goat,

Contemptuous, uninterested, gnawing on the last

Of a Sunday dress; and “I had a goat once,”

The thought that comes to me, “I had a small

Black goat, who pounded his head against a tree

Until he was dead. His name was Bumblebee…”

Well, night is coming on. No it is dead afternoon.

But there is something about night in this cloud-

Shadowed field. Perhaps the stars are shifting

Behind the veil of day? Perhaps. Perhaps…Oh,

I would turn this pretty. You see the cowbirds

Riding the boney heifer by the overturned bathtub?

The birds are dung-colored, yes, but when

They rise and swim together they change color,

Brown to red, the way the light changes color

At dusk. And, yes, the swans by the back fence

Are foul-tempered and mean as sin, but look

How their necks wave about now like the stems

Of lilies in the wind…lilies blowing in the wind…

The goat snorts and turns his back. He has

Swallowed the last of the dress…Oh, Sheep, Sheep,

This is my undoing, that you have a thought

And I can read it. Dear Monstrous Child, I would

Nurse you if I could. But you are far too large,

And I am far too old for such foolishness.

from The OrchardFind it in the library

Copyright © BOA Editions, Ltd 2004
Used with the permission of The Permissions Company, Inc.
on behalf of BOA Editions LTD.


Listen: there was a goat’s head hanging by ropes in a tree.

All night it hung there and sang. And those who heard it

Felt a hurt in their hearts and thought they were hearing

The song of a night bird. They sat up in their beds, and then

They lay back down again. In the night wind, the goat’s head

Swayed back and forth, and from far off it shone faintly

The way the moonlight shone on the train track miles away

Beside which the goat’s headless body lay. Some boys

Had hacked its head off. It was harder work than they had imagined.

The goat cried like a man and struggled hard. But they

Finished the job. They hung the bleeding head by the school

And then ran off into the darkness that seems to hide everything.

The head hung in the tree. The body lay by the tracks.

The head called to the body. The body to the head.

They missed each other. The missing grew large between them,

Until it pulled the heart right out of the body, until

The drawn heart flew toward the head, flew as a bird flies

Back to its cage and the familiar perch from which it trills.

Then the heart sang in the head, softly at first and then louder,

Sang long and low until the morning light came up over

The school and over the tree, and then the singing stopped…

The goat had belonged to a small girl. She named

The goat Broken Thorn Sweet Blackberry, named it after

The night’s bush of stars, because the goat’s silky hair

Was dark as well water, because it had eyes like wild fruit.

The girl lived near a high railroad track. At night

She heard the trains passing, the sweet sound of the train’s horn

Pouring softly over her bed, and each morning she woke

To give the bleating goat his pail of warm milk. She sang

Him songs about girls with ropes and cooks in boats.

She brushed him with a stiff brush. She dreamed daily

That he grew bigger, and he did. She thought her dreaming

Made it so. But one night the girl didn’t hear the train’s horn,

And the next morning she woke to an empty yard. The goat

Was gone. Everything looked strange. It was as if a storm

Had passed through while she slept, wind and stones, rain

Stripping the branches of fruit. She knew that someone

Had stolen the goat and that he had come to harm. She called

To him. All morning and into the afternoon, she called

And called. She walked and walked. In her chest a bad feeling

Like the feeling of the stones gouging the soft undersides

Of her bare feet. Then somebody found the goat’s body

By the high tracks, the flies already filling their soft bottles

At the goat’s torn neck. Then somebody found the head

Hanging in a tree by the school. They hurried to take

These things away so that the girl would not see them.

They hurried to raise money to buy the girl another goat.

They hurried to find the boys who had done this, to hear

Them say it was a joke, a joke, it was nothing but a joke…

But listen: here is the point. The boys thought to have

Their fun and be done with it. It was harder work than they

Had imagined, this silly sacrifice, but they finished the job,

Whistling as they washed their large hands in the dark.

What they didn’t know was that the goat’s head was already

Singing behind them in the tree. What they didn’t know

Was that the goat’s head would go on singing, just for them,

Long after the ropes were down, and that they would learn to listen,

Pail after pail, stroke after patient stroke. They would

Wake in the night thinking they heard the wind in the trees

Or a night bird, but their hearts beating harder. There

Would be a whistle, a hum, a high murmur, and, at last, a song,

The low song a lost boy sings remembering his mother’s call.

Not a cruel song, no, no, not cruel at all. This song

Is sweet. It is sweet. The heart dies of this sweetness.

from SongFind it in the library

Copyright © BOA Editions, Ltd 1995
Used with the permission of The Permissions Company, Inc.
on behalf of BOA Editions LTD.

This program is supported in part by a grant from the Idaho Humanities Council, a State-based program of the National Endowment for the Humanities.

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