Amber Fort Goats
The first one I saw was close
to the hotel, standing on its hind legs,
udders dangling like a pair
of lifeless arms.
She was the neighbourhood’s
resident pruner of shrubs and trees,
chewing away at the reds and greens
of bougainvillae along a spiked fence.
Later as I took on the stone steps
up Amber Fort I saw more.
Long limbed and silent hooved,
nudging not a pebble as they trotted.
Free to roam the ruins, more at home
here than the lumbering elephants
forced to ferry tourists past arches,
brown as burnt french fries.
Perhaps in another life
they were princes,
courtiers, palace officials,
a conquering raj.
I must practice my curtsey, wag
an ear or attempt the humblest bleat.
I might have a turn one day sifting through
garbage, savouring petals of velvet red.
Dream again of being king.
Goat, Rope, Rock
There is a goat in front of a house surrounded by sand.
Its left foot is tied to a rope
attached to a chunk of rock.
The desert town of Jaisalmer grows dark.
It is possible there are other goats
like this one, tied similarly to a rock.
But this is the goat that will not surrender
gnawing at the rope even as darkness reigns.
It will not give up while rope
taunts the limits of teeth. Even when I
am no longer by the window to witness
The Camel, The Poodles, the Pygmy Goats
There was a flourish of canned music and a wild
bouncing around of the one lone spotlight,
but the curtains didn’t part. We sat
on plastic chairs that grew
even more uncomfortable.
Suddenly a camel came charging through
the golden curtains, the trainer unable to keep up.
Perhaps sensing there was no desert night,
it reared. Front hooves
the size of a child’s skull.
The frantic trainer called for help
and the beast was led away amid screams
backstage. More waiting until two poodles
shuffled like mechanical toys to the centre
of the ring. They did their routine: hoop-leaps,
Two-legged spinning in tutus. With “Awww so cute”
and giggles we soon forgot the previous commotion.
They left the ring with a yelp
after the last doggie treat
disappeared down their throats.
And so we came to watch the last
animal act: Billy and His Kid.
Being pygmies, they quickly drew a sigh
from the audience. Small is beautiful
even if barely trained to do more than cross a plank.
I suppose we’ve come a few more steps
away from the sight of roaring lions made to jump
through flaming hoops. We didn’t see
a single whip, though next to the pouch
of treats was a black stick.
“Perhaps next year,” the ringmaster blared,
“our lion cubs will be old enough for the show!”
We couldn’t wait to leave.
But the kids gave us the look, a reminder
of how we pay for our mistakes.
Late Autumn, Early Winter
Hadeda ibises scythe the air
with their cries. Not like crows
or vultures, but something closer
to a human voice caught
between a wail and a screech.
I cannot see them among the branches
of an invasive American pine tree
just twenty paces away
from where I struggle.
They watch me dig
this sandy soil
that slips back into the hole
almost as quickly as I try
to make it wider, deeper,
with a rusty shovel.
This is a grave
for a pet who is still
munching lucerne in the garage.
Not the first grave
I have dug. And I know
it won’t be the last.
I lean the shovel
against the trickling wall of sand
to pause and measure.
Do I need to keep digging?
Is there room enough
for Marie? Born with back legs
that were as limp as fallen branches,
she defied the pull of the earth
and used her front legs to run
almost as fast as any goat
for many years.
Almost a week now
her legs have lost all strength.
The vet knows Marie’s genes
had struck the dreaded hour.
I have prepared a blanket
for her when he’s done.
The appointment is at 11:00.
It is late autumn, early winter,
then suddenly there is sunshine
on the damp grass
at level to my hips. Dark clouds
broken as brief as a breath.
But it happens.
Happy Chinese New Year! Here’s my small way of bleating. 😛
I have been promised by my publisher that sooner rather than later the book will be available on digital format. Here’s hoping.
ALIEN TO ANY SKIN (UST Publishing House, 2011)