Getting Yahweh’s Goat

            for Andrew DeBoo

“My goat is gone,” said God.
                                                   “Well, that’s too bad,”
said Abel.
                  “Can you find it, please?” God asked.
Said Abel, “I don’t want to be a cad,
but you know that I can’t leave my task
until the shearing’s done. My brother Cain,
perhaps?”

                  So Cain as well soon heard God whine,
“My goat is gone.” Cain stood there in the rain;
God coughed. “I thought that you could try to find
my goat for me.”
                              “Why don’t you go ask Abel?”
asked Cain.
                     “He said he has too much to do,”
said God. “And I’m quite sure that’s not a fable;
there’s shearing to be done.” Cain sighed. “I, too,
have things to do, but I will look for your goat.”

He wandered to the East and found some deer
herded by a man in a deerskin coat.
“I’m looking for Yahweh’s goat.”
                                                            “Well, it’s not here,”
grumbled the man, “but take this antler to him.”

Cain wandered to the West and saw a snake,
the largest he’d ever seen, just shedding its skin.
“No goats out here,” he thought, “but I can take
this sloughed-off skin to wrap the antler up.”

He wandered to the North and met two men
in bearskin hats, who offered him a cup
of something that got him drunk. He asked again:
“Have you seen Yahweh’s goat?”
                                                            “We’ve never had
a goat up here, but give Yahweh this drink.
And you can keep the cup.” Cain was quite glad
to have another gift; what would God think
if he were to turn up without a thing:
no goat, no offerings?

                                       Down south he went
and found a desert, nomads by a spring,
and vultures circling above their tent.
“I’m looking for Yahweh’s goat.”
                                                            “The only beast
out here’s our camel,” said the nomads’ head.
“This vulture-feather headdress is the least
that we can offer to your God instead.”

Cain went back home with all his offerings.
His crops were dying; God had gone away.
He asked his brother what to do. “These things
aren’t what God wants! He’s coming back today.
He’s sure to find all your excuses lame;
you’d better take this goat and pass it off
as his!”
            “Ridiculous,” Cain cried. “He’ll claim
I tried to trick him, cough his nervous cough,
and banish me!” When Abel laughed, Cain flew
into a rage and struck his brother down,
beating him with the antler. What to do?
He had to bury Abel. With a frown,
he threw the antler in the river, tore
the snakeskin from the West to pieces, drank
the burning liquor from the North, and wore
the headdress as a good disguise. “I thank
my lucky stars for this!” he thought, quite drunk.

The liquor helped him choose: he headed north.
“I went to get God’s goat and just got junk,”
he muttered as he staggered back and forth
on what he did not know was the wrong track.
It led him straight to God, who cried with glee:
“O Cain! Where have you been? My goat came back!
Have you seen Abel? I can’t wait to see
his grimace when he hears about my goat!”
This was too much for Cain, who wished he’d kept
his antler to do more than get God’s goat.
He mumbled something stupid, then he crept
away, as Yahweh babbled of a feast
to celebrate the prodigal’s return
and did not see how Cain was heading east,
into the sunrise. How his eyes did burn!

Only later did he note the mark
the desert headdress left upon his brow.
It must have been too tight, with all its dark
feathers. Too late to worry about it now.

Andrew Shields lives in Basel, Switzerland. His book Thomas Hardy Listens to Louis Armstrong was published by Eyewear in 2015. His band Human Shields also released an album in 2015, Somebody’s Hometown, and an EP in 2016, Défense de jouer.

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