Facing North

Rose McLarney

How articulate, the eyes

of silent animals when I chose

to shoot the sick goat. All day,

the dogs would not look at me, not

let me touch them, legs folding away from

the level to which I had lowered my hand.

And the chickens ran,

following their crazed paths,

every which way, but every

way away from me. The goat

looked as if she were running

as she lay, after, legs kicking.

But don’t chickens always run

like that? And this is no new

remorse. The light has always

been leaving my narrow,

north section. Place of the long

history of short days.

It’s the frost that stays. More mornings

than not here, no sun is enough

to undo the frost. I should have given

her southerly pasture. I should have

gone in another direction.

But consider where goats live

the world over. They browse

on woody brush. On rock, on cliffs.

In deserts, harsh habitat. They choose

cursed land. Who chooses goats?

I chose goats. I liked the bone shapes

in their eyes, the strange, slit pupils

they turned to me, chewing the corners

of my heavy coat. I wanted to live here,

on an old hardscrabble farm.

In this era, when there is no need

to farm, who is drawn to have livestock,

which die so much? Piss and blood

pour out of the back of a shot body.

But it’s piss and blood keeping them

alive too. Cleaning the stalls, cleaning

the wounds common to animals so curious.

She worked herself through fences,

under walls. She worked her head into my

pockets. Worked her way in

to every opening.

What’s different about a dead body

is what comes from the other end,

a great cursive scrawl of steam

from the mouth. It is the last word,

soundless, without the stop and start

of syllables, definitive.

What comes from the mouth

blows away. Didn’t I say

I was done with livestock last winter

when the calf froze to the ground, then to

death because it couldn’t move?

When I ripped it loose, the intestines,

threaded through crow-torn holes

in its belly, clung to the grass and shattered.

I said those were my ties to the place.

They were too cold to bleed. A quick job

to clean up and bury, I claimed.

I said I would never use animals

as the figures for my sorrows again.

But when the goat dropped shot,

the bread I’d brought to get her

to put her head down still in her teeth,

the chickens pecked at it.

I’m still here. I can’t stay away

from the hard images. Bread

taken from her mouth even then.

about the author