Monday, October 27, 2008

It Happens Like This

Reading "It Happens Like This" by James Tate, I feel like the poem keeps slipping through my fingers as it evolves in surprising ways. Only this isn't frustrating at all--it's enjoyable.

The critic Dana Gioia said that Tate "domesticated surrealism," which, previously, seemed foreign to Americans. See if you like how Tate employs surrealism here.


It Happens Like This

I was outside St. Cecelia's Rectory
smoking a cigarette when a goat appeared beside me.
It was mostly black and white, with a little reddish
brown here and there. When I started to walk away,
it followed. I was amused and delighted, but wondered
what the laws were on this kind of thing. There's
a leash law for dogs, but what about goats? People
smiled at me and admired the goat. "It's not my goat,"
I explained. "It's the town's goat. I'm just taking
my turn caring for it." "I didn't know we had a goat,"
one of them said. "I wonder when my turn is." "Soon,"
I said. "Be patient. Your time is coming." The goat
stayed by my side. It stopped when I stopped. It looked
up at me and I stared into its eyes. I felt he knew
everything essential about me. We walked on. A police-
man on his beat looked us over. "That's a mighty
fine goat you got there," he said, stopping to admire.
"It's the town's goat," I said. "His family goes back
three-hundred years with us," I said, "from the beginning."
The officer leaned forward to touch him, then stopped
and looked up at me. "Mind if I pat him?" he asked.
"Touching this goat will change your life," I said.
"It's your decision." He thought real hard for a minute,
and then stood up and said, "What's his name?" "He's
called the Prince of Peace," I said. "God! This town
is like a fairy tale. Everywhere you turn there's mystery
and wonder. And I'm just a child playing cops and robbers
forever. Please forgive me if I cry." "We forgive you,
Officer," I said. "And we understand why you, more than
anybody, should never touch the Prince." The goat and
I walked on. It was getting dark and we were beginning
to wonder where we would spend the night.



James Tate was born in Kansas City, Missouri in 1943. He was something of a prodigy, winning the prestigious Yale Younger Poets prize for his book The Lost Pilot when he was just 23 years old. He currently teaches at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst.

11 Comments:

OpenID jeg43 said...

First, my thanks for your efforts in creating this site and keeping up the posts: thanks!
Second, my compliments on this week's choice. I like it enough to copy it to my computer.
Third, a comment: You have an interesting taste in verse. I look forward to your post each week. Please continue.

4:39 PM  
Blogger Sree said...

Nice to read this.Wonder how you pick such varied poems for each post.Very nice.

12:00 AM  
Blogger Dan Quayle said...

Thanks to both of you! Also, we'll be back to our regular Friday postings this week (ed. vacation is over).

8:28 AM  
Blogger Ginger said...

glad to see you back dan ;)

i feel like i'm in a misty dream while reading this poem as it moves past me. that's really cool.

10:17 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

This is a very different poem and I enjoyed it. I am very glad that you have a Poem of the Week and hope that you continnue.

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