Sunday, June 12, 2011

James Najarian: With the Herd

Late in the afternoon, the goats ascend
the stubbled hills in strictest precedence
first, the "queen," the strongest of the does,
then each goat in order of her rank,
trailed by her skipping kids-then yearlings,
and at the end the old, complaining ones.
The herd will linger near the tractor paths
nimbly lipping kernels from bare roots,
craning their earthbound necks for maple leaves,
dowsing for dandelion and dock. Most evenings
they return, in the same, now satiated line.

But some desks, the riches are too much for them;
they squander hours with their relentless mouths.
The sun drops anonymous into the damp
and they find themselves abandoned in blind fields—
while you, indoors, are waiting for the thump
of their returning hooves-and hearing nothing.
You must give up on your accustomed walls
to hoof and blunder through the black alone.
Flashlight in hand and calling to no answer,
you shine your flimsy beam on forest edges,
illuminating vines and sumac, until
you stumble on them unexpectedly
silent and watchful, clustered in a circle,
the nannies fortressing the kids within,
just as their ancestors must have, outside
the tents of Ishmael or Abraham.
Stop calling them. Stand still. They will not stir
until you turn the light on your known face,
their weak eyes recognize and understand.
Now, rising as a body, they will follow you,
grateful and hushed as only they can be.
Together, you will find your way back home.

This poem appeared in the Fall/Winter 2009 issue of Westbranch
Copyright © James Najarian

James Najarian grew up on a goat farm in northern Berks country, Pennsylvania. He has published poetry in small literary journals including Ararat, Tar River Poetry,Watershed, and West Branch. He teaches Romantic and Victorian literature at Boston College. He is the author of a critical work entitled Victorian Keats: Masculinity, Sexuality, and Desire, (Palgrave Macmillan 2002) and lives in the Brighton section of Boston.

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