Encounter in the Local Pub
from the February 2010 issue of Poetry magazine
As he looked up from his glass, its quickly melting ice,
into the bisected glowing demonic eyes of the goat,
he sensed that something fundamental had shifted,
or was done. As if, after a life of enchantment, he
had awakened, like Bottom, wearing the ears of an ass,
and the only light was a lanthorn, an ersatz moon.
It was not that the calendar hadn’t numbered the days
with an orbital accuracy, its calculations
exact, but like a man who wants to hang a hammock
in his yard, to let its bright net cradle him, but only
has one tree, so he—wild and aware of it—knew
he had lost the order he required, and with it, rest—
his thoughts only a sagging bundle of loose ends,
and the heart, a naked animal in search of a pelt,
that once fell for every Large Meaning it could
wrap itself in, as organs are packed in ice for transit
from one ending to the next, an afterlife of parts—and
the whole? Exorbitant claim—not less than all,
and oddly spelled; its ear rhyme is its opposite,
the great hole in the heart of things. The goat,
he noticed, had a rank smell, feral. Unnerved,
he looks away, watches the last of his ice
as it melts, the way some godlike eye might see
the mighty glaciers in a slow dissolve back into sea.
He notes how incommensurate the simile, a last
attempt to dignify his shaking gaze, and reaches
for the bill; he’s damned if the goat will pay.
Unlike Francis Bacon, we no longer believe in the little patterns we make of the chaos of history.