“Goats” by Allan Johnston

Allan Johnston


Near Northport, Washington

A goat full of Camel cigarette butts
is a wormed goat, people said. They carried
stumped out cigarettes in their pockets
and fed them to goats like kids giving sugar
to horses. The goats would eat them the way
they seemed to eat anything they could love,
which was everything. But Camel butts
weren’t their only door to the human;

dinner slops mixed with ash tray fillings,
marijuana roaches, burnt hash-pipe foil,
everybody’s chewing gum: anything’s food
to a goat. And in other ways

they could cross that fickle line
we claimed as a boundary.
Unsuspecting foils of jealousy
learned a lot, or at least earned a limp,
from butting horns that showed who had
the cajones this side of the wire. One day
we took the trash to the Northport dump.
Two things were open, or opened; the gate
to the goat pen, and the door to the house.
When we came back the goats were lying
on the sofa they were eating;
the towels were gone; one was mounting the stove
while another nudged cupboard doors
for the cereal. Tiny goat turds
lay on the carpet like counters in some
unfinished game you could only play

if you saw through those weird, rectangular
coffin-lid pupils in the eyes of a goat
gone over into our world. We got them
out of the house, established some sense

of order, or at least what we thought
was hierarchy. Outside, the goats
nuzzled each other, gently opening
doorways to another life.

from Rattle #29, Summer 2008


Allan Johnston: “‘Goats’ is part of a series of poems about my experiences living in northern Washington State in the mid-1970s—in the heart of the ‘back to the land’ phase of the hippie movement. Though there is some elaboration and mixing of experiences, the goats actually did get in the house and wreak their own sort of havoc.” (web)

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