Myotonia congenita

Here’s the “Fainting Goats” poem I referenced in an earlier posting. It appears in the Spring 2013 issue of Philadelphia Poets.

Fainting Goats

Next door, the neighbor’s raising goats.
I hear them bleating in the mornings while they wait
for feed, their stuttering punctuates the day.
Evenings, they murmur like a small crowd at a magic show.

The goats fall into a brief paralysis at any sign of danger:
they bleat and stiffen, roll onto their sides like live piñatas,
legs outstretched, then collect themselves and bolt
fast as they can, to the far side of the pen.

My neighbor says they’re bred by shepherds
to distract roving predators from the sheep,
sacrificed to the wolf or bobcat if the startle
lasts too long or if the predator’s swift.

Think of the white sheep fleeing in droves,
shunting themselves away from their fallen companion,
trammeling hillside toward safety while the goat
recovers, bellering, attempting its escape.

My neighbor chose them for their novelty,
chases them with an umbrella, makes certain
they maintain the reflex that causes their bodies
to seize and stumble. This is how

we keep our frailties alive, inbred, and how we fall,
sometimes luckily, sometimes into the jaws
of a starving winter day, asking ourselves if it’s destiny
or heredity, lost before we determine the answer.


For other poems, see the Poems page here. Or buy my books–see the Books page here.


On being understood

I’ve just learned that a poem of mine, “Fainting Goats,” was awarded a prize from the journal in which it appears, Philadelphia Poets. Liz Abrams-Morley was the judge.

To my delight, the editor of Philadelphia Poets (the lovely and talented Rosemary Cappello) requests judges to write their rationale for choosing the poems as winners, and here’s what Abrams-Morley has to say about “Fainting Goats.” She understands the poem, and that feels deeply rewarding to me.

A very close third place, Ann Michael’s “Fainting Goats” is a poem which intrigues and engages from its unexpected title (and subject) to its terrific, enlarging and emotionally challenging final stanza.  The opening is conversational, a straightforward statement which addresses the reader, and introduces an unexpected fact: “Next door, the neighbor is raising goats.” This drew me right in to the detailed treatise on the quirky fainting behavior of goats, which are almost playfully and so perfectly described as murmuring “like a small crowd at a/magic show” and rolling on their sides “like live piñatas.”   The poem takes a darker turn as Michael reveals that the goats are living distractions, bred by shepherds to draw predators away from sheep. “Think of the white sheep fleeing in droves,// …toward safety while the goat/recovers, bellering, attempting its escape.”  The neighbor, meanwhile, simply “chose them for their novelty,” a statement which chilled this reader following, as it does, immediately on the heels of the harrowingly detailed description of the goat as potential sacrifice to some predator.  As a reader, I felt the panic of prey animals and heard that goat’s cry.

Structurally everything about this poem works.  The unrhymed quatrains, even meter,  conversational language and line breaks—all the poetic choices Michael makes support the poem’s content and feel “right,” even inevitable.

The final stanza opens out the poem, enlarges its vision magnificently, transforms the goat story from conversational tale into powerful metaphor.  Michael’s closing is flat- out gorgeous and provocative.  It leaves the reader, as many of the best poems do, with a question to ponder, rather than with commentary or answer.  I found myself returning and returning to these lines: “This is how//we keep our frailties alive, inbred, and how we fall/ sometimes luckily, sometimes into the jaws/of a starving winter day, asking ourselves if it’s destiny/or heredity.”

I am always interested in how other people interpret my work and appreciate it when they see things that I may not have had in mind; but Ms. Abrams-Morley gleaned from my poem the very things I intended.

Thank you!