Thursday, April 09, 2009

The audacity of goats: "It Happens Like This," by James Tate

Via Pam (whose roses are beginning to bloom and has been offering up glorious proof of this on her blog of late [read: go and see]) comes this sly little poem by James Tate--who is, I've just learned, a Kansas City boy:

"It Happens Like This," by James Tate

I was outside St. Cecelia's Rectory
smoking a cigarette when a goat appeared beside me.
It was mostly black and white, with a little reddish
brown here and there. When I started to walk away,
it followed. I was amused and delighted, but wondered
what the laws were on this kind of thing. There's
a leash law for dogs, but what about goats? People
smiled at me and admired the goat. "It's not my goat,"
I explained. "It's the town's goat. I'm just taking
my turn caring for it." "I didn't know we had a goat,"
one of them said. "I wonder when my turn is." "Soon,"
I said. "Be patient. Your time is coming." The goat
stayed by my side. It stopped when I stopped. It looked
up at me and I stared into its eyes. I felt he knew
everything essential about me. We walked on. A police-
man on his beat looked us over. "That's a mighty
fine goat you got there," he said, stopping to admire.
"It's the town's goat," I said. "His family goes back
three-hundred years with us," I said, "from the beginning."
The officer leaned forward to touch him, then stopped
and looked up at me. "Mind if I pat him?" he asked.
"Touching this goat will change your life," I said.
"It's your decision." He thought real hard for a minute,
and then stood up and said, "What's his name?" "He's
called the Prince of Peace," I said. "God! This town
is like a fairy tale. Everywhere you turn there's mystery
and wonder. And I'm just a child playing cops and robbers
forever. Please forgive me if I cry." "We forgive you,
Officer," I said. "And we understand why you, more than
anybody, should never touch the Prince." The goat and
I walked on. It was getting dark and we were beginning
to wonder where we would spend the night.

Bonus: "Honey Can You Hear Me," read this past Monday on The Writer's Almanac.


Cordelia said...

Oh, wonderful ! And "The Audacity of Goats" had me laughing very hard, since I read straight down, right after the post on state secrets. I'd venture some old goats are exerting pressure on the latter. Maybe I can give you something in return: Have you come across "Starting Now: Poems for the First One Hundred Days ?" Poems of all stripes, by, ahem, professionals. Some are wonderful.

Pam said...

I'm glad you liked the poem (and the roses) - I need to read some more of Tate I think.

(and what a fun link above - to the first one hundred days of poems!)

I hope all is well out your way.

Anonymous said...

Tate is new to me, via an alumni email from UMass. The thing about the goat hit me more as a religious- metaphor story than as poetry. Can you touch the goat and have your life changed? Sure, just as you can touch the Prince of Peace (figuratively.) But the cop chose not to do it, and the narrator (and the goat/Prince of Peace) knew why. We don't, but surmise a dark secret. Pretty cool, and a bit humorous as well.