Thursday, August 9, 2018

"Animal Behavior" by Lowell Jaeger, Contest Judge

Animal Behavior
Lowell Jaeger 
"Guest" Ink on Paper
By J. Artemus Gordon

She’d sputtered her droppings on the living room rug
and crushed them into the weave with her hooves.  Chewed
couch cushions to confetti.  Rammed the pantry door
and tore open sacks of flour.  Ravished
ten pounds of potatoes and a bag of pungent onions.
Vomited and curled up for a nap beside the stove . . .

where we discovered her upon our return from town.
Had we not latched the front door securely?  Who knows
how long she’d waited to escape beyond the gated
pasture?  Or how she’d lucked into the lavish comforts
of heated rooms? Giddy and amazed, the old ewe
must have partied half the afternoon like a drunken sailor

on shore leave. Then to be awakened by our curses,
kicked in the ribs, and dragged by the ears.  To be exiled
behind barbed wire, alone in the cold wind.  To offer
wide-eyed dumbfounded witness as her people howled
like savages and raged beside a trash fire in the drive.

Poet's Notes:  How strange is our relationship to other species.  How strange that we perceive our species as something “other” than animal.  Yet, so often I see humans behaving according to our deeply seated animal instincts and I see animals behaving strangely civilized. Many of my poems are musings upon these sorts of observations.  To see beyond the mundane and simplistic, to glimpse the conundrum of paradox--that’s the poet’s job.  Yes, it’s the poet’s job to complicate things, to reveal the complexities of what we take for granted, what seems ordinary.  “Poetry shouldn’t prettify life;” said Robert Frost, “poetry should take life by the throat.”

I once watched a herd of elk grazing near a salt lick in the meadow behind my home.  The cow elk were bunched together grazing peacefully, conversing with each other, gossiping.  Several bull elk circled the periphery, posturing and bellowing.  Now and again, two bulls would challenge each other, lower their heads and knock antlers together.  This, in turn, caused the cows to cease grazing and to look upon the bulls with alarm.  The bulls basked in the attention.  The cows seemed partly worried, partly annoyed.

Shortly thereafter, I found myself in the wildlands of a biker-bar in Great Falls, Montana.  The biker ladies were bunched together in the center of the dance floor, grazing on snacks and beers, conversing, gossiping.  Rough looking biker dudes circled the periphery, posturing, working themselves up to their best tough-guy huffs and hoots and hollers.  Now and again one man would butt shoulders with another, or one man took another man by the collar and held him menacingly.  This, in turn, caused the ladies to look upon the dudes with alarm. The dudes basked in the attention.  The ladies seemed partly worried, partly annoyed.  “Take it outside,” someone commanded.

Editor's Note:  "Animal Behavior" was previously published in Or Maybe I Drift Off Alone, Spillway, and Wisconsin Review.

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