Poem of the Week | October 16, 2012

This week we’ve dug up a TMR classic by Brenda Hillman. We published this poem back in ’88, issue 11.1. Hillman has described her work as “interested in the presence of spirit in matter and in how to have joy in a divided universe…My tools are irony, the image, the broken narrative, and an intensely personal voice.” We see all of those tools at work in this poem. Hillman has received numerous awards for her work including fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts, the Guggenheim Foundation, the Poetry Society of America, as well as a Pushcart Prize and the Delmore Schwartz Memorial Award. Her collections include Bright Existence (1993), Loose Sugar (1997), Cascadia (2001) and Pieces of Air in the Epic (2003).

The Goats

The hills had been working
on the problem. I walked out
to nothing literary,


sick of being caught between
words and the world and often
not even there but beside


the gulf, sick even of Keats’
dilemma where I have
slept, driven, often unable


to speak to those I love . . .
then saw at Tilden’s edge the opposite
of Keats, the goats they’d brought


to clear the park
and for a while I gave up . . .
It was a filthy carnival,


the swinging testicles
and loose skin, and what
sameness in the snorting


ravenous pursuit as they trampled
each other and behind them in a parallel
flutter, the click


of the cyclists divided by action
and conversation—they passed
by in a thick spin,


shouting about their therapists,
their muscles quivering
under their shiny leotards . . .


The goats went on eating
at the edge of the park,
stumps, leaves, grasses; they stepped


on their children who were
vividly set apart in their
self-conscious little clumps


like poets, and for a moment the pure
mindlessness did not keep us
apart, I thought it would be adequate


to stay awhile by
the electric fence,
noting the variety and cruelty


by which they annexed
the wilderness to their bodies,
the difference between the big females


and myself not being
thought but that they
could not love—


then the words
came back in the dreadful
whirl, as the ridged or volute


horns of the goats point
toward the skulls at different rates
of curvature;


and I stayed, watching the pressure
merely to exist until there were
three natures;


the third was having to choose . . .