The Goats Laboring

Trucked in like migrant workers, spindly-legged
And eager, they assault the hill—once logged,
Now thick with stumps and brush, and tinder-dry
Brown grass: a day’s assignment. Passers-by
Slow down in brief amusement at this sea
Of motley goats let run amok, set free
To trample and devour. This is their task:
Fight fire with hunger. Wearers of Satan’s mask,
This cloven-hoofed and horned and bearded horde
Consumes with fiery spirit all the hard,
Dry fuel that feeds the risk of conflagration
From one flicked ash. But what do they know of arson,
These ravenous goats? Hard at their urgent work,
Which they pursue past daylight into dark,
They know but that they’re hungry, and they eat.
Such is their nature—some would say the height
Of wisdom. So accomplished at their job
Are they, that any favored tree or shrub
Worth sparing has been fenced, to keep in check
The all-outreaching, ever-craning neck
Of goatly appetite. So stands the oak.

Next day, we find the hill transformed: now stripped
Of brush and leaves, the grass completely cropped;
The laborers about in varied poses,
Most lying, ruminating; some with noses
Thrust deep in troughs of water or of feed
That supplements their diet of dry weeds;
Some pose on stumps, hooves balanced on a point,
Supporting keg-like bodies, every joint
A bony knob. One samples and rejects
A pungent eucalyptus shoot, inspects
And chews the bark that falls in leathery strips;
Some, rampant, stretch to reach forbidden tips
Of juniper and oak. A pair lock horns
Like classic wrestlers on an ancient urn;
The young butt heads, with flat, thick skulls well-suited
To pointless conflict, pointedly disputed.
One elder turns on us a slit-eyed stare
Of startling blue, his curly, sheep-like hair
An old man’s coat. He seeks new leaves, so dense
And green just past the wires, but stops to sense
The tick, tick, tick of the electric fence.

This poem first appeared in Iambs and Trochees, no. III, Issue 2, 2004. It’s that season again: The goats are out in force cutting the wild grasses for the citizens of Oakland.

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