portion of the artwork for Christian Woodard's poetry

Boyne and the Mother Goat
Christian Woodard


Williwaw: The wind.
Boyne Davis: Cannery caretaker who runs unlicensed mountain goat hunts.
Jim: Boyne’s father-in-law, Hillman’s grandfather.
Hillman Davis: Boyne’s son.
Ken: Hunting client.

I touched his face
when Boyne Davis came
into the bay. He had left
home and brought everyone
who was left with him.

His son and his wife’s father
was everyone who came up
the bay with Boyne Davis.

He paid groundline
between the first fore-
knuckle and thumb
like he wanted even
the fish to love him.

Boyne’s face was his son’s
face which was not the face
of the old man, who faced
me like an old friend when
they came in the boat, together.

A harpoon for Hillman’s birthday:

Driftwood cedar shaved
shaft. Vise, bench, floor
piled red with curly suds.

Pale girl’s groin hair.
Rasp, file, glass
shard to tame the grain.

Drill hole for the iron cord.
Wet cloth to stand the fiber,
scrape smooth again.

Hold it to the light—thin
high clouds today—whipped
grip to finish it right.

The evening works down the mountains
when Boyne leans to the shop door,
drawknife and stone in hand. He shrinks
from the light, like he might never step free,
like a rat in a wine bottle that will someday
be only a bright pair of teeth and mess of fur
and delicate spine when you put an eye
to the dim green mouth of the glass.

He does come out. To sit a dock pile,
blade across his knees. Spit on it. Circle
the gritstone through slow shine down
its edge. The round sun will drop into
water and for a span light the long wave
standing there. The sea’s stropped
bit collects its shavings on the beach.

Hillman came in from the out back
where he puts it, like he does,
because he can’t stand the smell
of the backhouse. Digs under
leaf must through white, nervy
grass shoots into clean dirt.

Squats and the late pushki blooms
over his head like round piles
of salt under a punctured bag.

Walks the beach back, using
the shovel to turn up old
shaped stones—sinkers taste
hard as the back of a spoon—
and new, light trash at the tideline.

Returns the shovel to the shop
where he first digs a little
in the floor—rusty nails,
green rivets with a smell of blood.

Comes inside to sit with Jim
who makes the worried loops
with his hands. Hillman knows
what the old man does. Mends
net. Fills holes in a ripped up mind
with imaginary twine. The old man’s
breath pulls like the good kelp beds
where Hillman hunts for octopus
in their rock burrows. Where small
eels coil in leftover pools. He moves
closer to sit in the exhaled track.

They watch Boyne through the window,
already all waiting for the plane and the
man tomorrow. As an early birthday
present, Hillman will join this time.

What I’ve been at lately:
Put the ships off their courses.
Ruffle cottonwood’s skirts
& lift the back hair of a bear.

Overturn a skiff & break it
on the rocks. Catch a goat kid
unaware; take him off the cliff.
Find out all protected harbors;
slosh the water back and forth.

Knock down old trees,
make room for new ones,
carry rain to flood the town.

Keep the yacht from holding anchor;
shake the eagle’s nesting branch.
Drift snow between the birches,
whisper stonefall on some horses
minding their own damn business.
And keep watch, always, for those birds
who fly too easily through my gusts.

From the rocks above camp I can see one.
Hasn’t moved since we spotted it coming in.
If there it is tomorrow, god willing, we’ll shoot it.

Thanks to Ann for letting me come.
Might be the last chance, she says,
which hurts more than the cost
and yet how priceless already
to move in mountains with wild
goats before it’s too late.

Pray for Boyne—keep a good head
on his shoulders. To keep us all safe.

Back home, Ann’s in bed with
the cats. Might still be warm
there. Be with her.

This place! Sudden wind crushing grass.
Shattered rock that he calls a valley but
is the glacier’s mudroom, where it stomps
boots when it comes off the mountain.

Thank god for good boots. Worth the money.
Let them stay nice, so if I ever can
make another hunt like this I’ll have them
in reserve. Won’t even wear them out
to the barn which eats the leather.

Find a way to talk with the quiet boy. Hard,
to grow up with no brothers and sisters.
Unfair to a child, Lord. Ease him a little.

And Lord, keep the weather fine and the bears away.
And for all the old and the sick, Lord. Might they find
strength and the will to live. Thank you, Lord, for my will
and keep the shakes down while we’re up here.
And let it not be anything serious, after all.

Sometimes you’re in the last light, dear.

Climb to the knob and scan. Let’s not
get caught stepping on Stan’s toes again.
Valley clear. Flat clouds over the moon.

Client seems strong, healthy, doesn’t doubt
anything. Fingers fat as a banana bunch.

If Hillman just likes the harpoon—made it smooth,
anyway. I recognize it in him, from myself. Why
he sets quiet not letting on he’s unsure.

This will help. Brings fathers and sons together.
Always has, always will. Had your sensitivity.
Diesel fumes make him puke. Finds things, though.
A squeaking line too harsh, but doesn’t mind
blood or killing. God forbid we get found up here.

And the old, old man. Told him to run up
the flag if that Fish & Game boat comes around
but don’t know that he even has gas left for that.
Those hands keep turning and now turning
too ingrown to hold his coffee. For your sake,
let him go as soon as he’s ready.

Sometimes, light off a wet stone
I think is your cheek. Back home
once I saw your bare back—
the flank of the gray horse
in moonlight. And at night, love,
I wish to Christ I never took another
one to shoot the white goats off these cliffs.

I was just hauling in a load
of clouds to lay flagstones
on the sky when I thought
to take a look on Boyne,
after goats up in the valley.

Set some out & blew them
on their way and felt for his
shoulders. High & tight
under the coat. Still scared. Of
the man with him—he looked
up at me and spoke but with
someone else. Outsider, maybe.

And the boy, Hillman. After
the other two slept he walked
upvalley to the slates
where the mother goat stood.
I laid a smell down on him.
Sweet & wet, hairy, the mud
of a dead one. Too dark for him
to see but he went back
to the camp with a question.
Smart boy. Wind-sniffer.

He looks down on her, now weirdly
foreshortened and right below. The kid
clearly fallen from these fur-smoothed beds
on the ledge. She grabs at Hillman
with the open triangle of her face.
Thanks be that they had the luck
to be alive together. Distant, tiny,
her distance awakening a magnetic
gut-dread. He puts his hands out
to back carefully from the edge.
We won’t shoot her, Hill,
Boyne said in the morning
on the wet rocks where he’d stood
last night in the dark scent, flattened
by the fall and the rain. Like
urine, from her sticking there
to scare eagles off her child.
They glass others that move on
trails angled cleanly across the faces.
A group comes to rest on a hanging
scrap of grass. They move aimlessly,
like drifting jellyfish, grazing lichens.
Come on, kid, the man had said.
Let it go. No use to just
stand and look at a thing
like that. We’ll find another

Hillman next to the man. Speaks easily.

Look through the glasses for something
far and interesting. That Hillman mightn’t share
small kindness with the man that’ll haunt us.

Closest we come to busted was
stalking a skylined one. Remember
in the glasses, it stiffened and tried
twice to foot the rock? It was tumbled
before the sharp, too-close crack
came of someone else here. Hunkered
until Stan got skinning, then snuck us off.

Hillman mightn’t smile at the man’s
story. Share a piece of chocolate with
him, lonely as all men, underneath.
And he’d show up years from now, dirty,
heavy-handed and asking kindnesses
we haven’t the means to give. Poor
goat. Thought they were accustomed to that
kind of thing. You, dear, would have stood
so, nearly human and bold to chase us off
the old rot. We’ll find another, yet.
Standing in the rocks, unaware until
the shock of broken guts lay him down.

New clouds hide the peaks. Poor girl,
wind off the sea like this, they’ll just keep
dropping. Sometimes you’re in the rain—
scraps of sky come down to me. Girl,
always some piece of me was out
on a ridge, already shot. We’ve lived
this way always, no? Waiting for the report.

There was a time before this time
when water kept the world.
When I went on its hard
chest away from shore.
Off the shelf moving linetubs
under a flat orange peel of sun.

Haul, pay, gaff, throw. Like
chased animals we moved.
Curt—gut, salt, cut, roe—
movements of men
too tired to waste them.

There was a time after that time
that I felt almost at home.
The Promenade in Havre St. Pierre,
in from the gulf. Foreign music.
Over bottled beer and langoustines
we felt the sweet pleasure of being
nearly, but not all the way, back.

They’ll think I brought the storm to spite them.
That I ease my breath to tempt them, stop
my lungs to calm them, cough to crack them.

It’s just land breathing, tides wheezing.
Ancient changes the old man knows
& the young one smells.

When I arrive from high places,
seeming to pick one patch of ocean
over the others, it’s never in anger.

With pleasure I greet them. Strike them.
Carry them off. I lay it on thick,
heavy fog for Boyne Davis now.

Those who know my voice (the one that covers
other voices and helps the ocean speak) are
ready for conversation.

With a keen eye for the unweighted napkin
or the wallowing transom, I don’t know
what’s going to happen, but I can guess.

Under the fog, Lord, all day long.
Only a thermos of coffee, hiding
from the wind waiting for the big one
to set in our laps. Holding back shivers,
still I tell myself when the time
comes I’ll feel steady at the gun.

Goddamn the damp cloud. Started last
year but seems better at times. The milker
gives no trouble at all. No one knows,
Lord, but Ann. I’ve started telling
useless stories and I fear how
politely her smooth face nods.

Caffeine, too, puts the shiver to me.
Bring out a handsome old goat
to make my family proud.
Or any old goat. Lord Almighty,
I’m getting on to run around
these hills much longer.

Even the boy treats me fragile. Like
he wouldn’t want to be looking
the other way when I up and die.
Thought we’d find another
but all day long, Lord, this fog.

Step by step on the slick stones. Called the hunt,
when Ken went cold and empty at the boulder.
All of us from time to time sensing the nanny’s
pain below, same savor of every other pang.

We’d see no more animals,
today, he said. And was right,
though it clears a little, now.

We used, dear, to talk of suffering. One
of us would help the other from their misery.
And yet— If we didn’t have to climb down
by the mother goat, for Hillman’s sake.

Maybe she’ll have just moved on. I’ll look
to the wet stone and she’ll be gone. No
white gash of her moonlit hide. Our path
upwind. All our sakes, put her out of mind.

On a stiff breeze
a gunshot is the briefest of noises.
I paused, though, to let it splay
through the valley. Boyne jumped
& at each lessened echo flinched
a little more until finally, without moving,
he assumed his normal, cowered position.

I went cautious at first—
when she stood her ground
over the kid, I went in the open.

Looked to Boyne. Through their silence
I knew they both wanted me to take her.
To keep her from grieving, they seemed to say
with a hurried look away from that
apparition from our pasts. She
was something we feared to face, that
convention, or fear of retribution, or
some superstition had made sacred.

But when I saw her, huge and disheveled
in the scope, it was just the goat I’d imagined
for so long. I touched the safety and knew
the sweet abandonment of stepping through
a posted gate. Catch me if you can. My hands,
just then, cold but firm. Move the crosshairs down
to her thick froth of neck (away from the eyes)
and shoot her head on as she looks.

Ann will never know
the difference between nanny and
a billy with its head up on the wall.

No need for explanation.
In a moment it was done,
with no lightning strikes or voices
from heaven, thank heavens. How few
unpunished trespasses it takes
to take to doubting. One
life is all we get, and one
day I’ll be too weak to lead it.

He’d known since long before they could see clearly
how it was. When the question came, Boyne had turned
his face to the last light. The valley cleared. He stood,
thumbs hooked in his straps, hoping to do right.
Pads of moss and rotten duff.
Rut of deer on shredded branches.
She stood off the scavengers. Whiff of a match,
long sounds neglected by wind. Kicked like
a dreaming dog on the hills of dreams.
What secret cadence did she tip toward?
Hollow bones in drying grass.
Pleasant filth of gravel patches.
By the feet and the forefeet dragged her
twitching, away from the kid’s smell
while they boned her. Piss, fly-blow,
softened muscle. Boyne laid out cuts.
Back to the salt bags and broken beach,
the hightide mark and rank lagoon.
Shook Ken’s shaking hand. You finish,
he said to Hillman. Touched his wrist.
To steady him or be steadied by him
wasn’t sure. See you at camp.
Gusts that carry fragrant fetch.
Fallen husks of pushki blooms.
Parts the hot glut. Milk, white fat.
His birthday will start at midnight
tonight. Will have changed
ages before the blood cleans off.

They took her face. Lovely
one with the long horns. Curved
black calipers. Just boy-boned
bones on the rocks by her baby,
eyes plastered sideways staring
at the sky. Already the eagles
are in, equally at the two.

The boy’s gone down with her
hide in the bag and the smell
of the child left behind him. How
could it happen
, he cried to me
& I whispered, when I saw you
packing upvalley, I didn’t know,
but I could guess. He went back
to skinning to agree that yes,
if he had known it was possible,
he might have suspected such
a thing. For him, now, possible.

Tomorrow I will begin
the day clear and still.
Once everything has started
on its course I will send gusts
to investigate possibilities.

Boyne sat the shop door in rubber bibs.
Fleshed a pink film from the hide back.
Squinted into the fresh day. Hillman’s day,
who hasn’t spoke since they came off.

If Boyne will peer so, toothed
and uncertain from that windowglass,
then not my boy. Not Hillman,
whose lips now harden at the door.
I take him out through the mouth
of the bottle-green bay.
Past forgotten crabpots
and the weather bell
to the ledge
where the shelf drops.

One of us will feel that old
quiver on the braid. I can help
haul. When the fish stands off
I’ll help him fit the rod to its socket.
He’ll lift the harpoon, wood
still fragrant, unblooded.

Even if he fails, I can teach him
to drive it through the cold slab.

He’ll know the moment of separation
when the fish runs with the iron hinged
to the end of the line, hitched to the rail.

Until hand over hand
he’ll know what it means
to love the sea.

A bunch of gulls diving, there.
On cutbait the two toss overboard.

The faces of the old & the
young share features apart from

Boyne Davis, who from his lair
sees my trails rake the mountain.

Does bad luck dog him? No,
he asks it in by gracious nod.

Those kittiwakes rise too
easy through the still air—

Why certainly, good man.
Let me meet them out there.

Christian Woodard’s Comments

These poems narrate an illegal goat hunt through the eyes of a guide, his father-in-law, his son, and a client. The human perspectives are interspersed with a chorus of personified wind. This project grew from two questions: “what is the voice of the land?” and “can it narrate?” The Williwaw voice feels out answers as some combination of actor and observer.

I wrote them last winter, during a week off from guiding in Chile. The characters had been in my mind for a few months when a client shot a nanny protecting her dead kid. We saw her as soon as we came into the valley, but spent a week trying to hunt up a different goat. The whole time she never left the kid. I’ve never seen an animal show grief like that. It was hard to watch when, on the last day, the client chose to shoot her. He walked up while she stood her ground, ready to fight anything.

I spent three seasons goat hunting and gillnetting salmon on Kodiak. Met a lot of interesting characters there, including a one-eyed fisherman whose father and son were drowned on the son’s birthday when their skiff flipped by a freak gust. People call a squall like that a “williwaw,” and when you’re in the mountains you can see them rip down from high valleys to hit the sea.

That boy became Hillman on his 13th birthday. Boyne and Jim (and the client) all urge him into rites of their own adulthood. For most of the narrative he remains in third person. His final poem begins in third person, but the lyric couplets have no pronoun, and the final sentence leaves enough space for either “he” or “I” to act. My intention is to suggest that Hillman will arrive into his own voice with the birthday.

But he’s silent when he gets back down. Instead of developing his voice, the hunt has “hardened his lips.”

There’s something balanced about the old man and the young boy on that fatal birthday fishing trip. Jim verges on the final silence of age; Hillman waits in a limbo of a developing persona. They meet the williwaw (a force generally assumed to be voiceless) together. Part of the poem’s drive is to show that silent actors—the young, the very old, a grieving goat, a dead wife, the movement of air—all possess a knowable consciousness. Another part is to complicate the violence in these scenarios, and to suggest that, as the williwaw says: “It’s just land breathing, tides wheezing. / Ancient changes the old man knows / & the young one smells.”

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FRiGG: A Magazine of Fiction and Poetry | Issue 52 | Fall/Winter 2018