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James Dickey


The Sheep Child 

Farm boys wild to couple 
With anything    with soft-wooded trees 
With mounds of earth    mounds 
Of pinestraw    will keep themselves off 
Animals by legends of their own: 
In the hay-tunnel dark 
And dung of barns, they will 
Say    I have heard tell

That in a museum in Atlanta 
Way back in a corner somewhere 
There's this thing that's only half 
Sheep    like a woolly baby 
Pickled in alcohol     because 
Those things can't live.    his eyes 
Are open     but you can't stand to look 
I heard from somebody who ...

But this is now almost all 
Gone. The boys have taken 
Their own true wives in the city, 
The sheep are safe in the west hill 
Pasture     but we who were born there 
Still are not sure. Are we, 
Because we remember, remembered 
In the terrible dust of museums?

Merely with his eyes, the sheep-child may

Be saying     saying

   I am here, in my father's house. 
   I who am half of your world, came deeply 
   To my mother in the long grass  
   Of the west pasture, where she stood like moonlight 
   Listening for foxes. It was something like love 
   From another world that seized her 
   From behind, and she gave, not lifting her head 
   Out of dew, without ever looking, her best 
   Self to that great need. Turned loose, she dipped her face 
   Farther into the chill of the earth, and in a sound 
   Of sobbing    of something stumbling 
   Away, began, as she must do, 
   To carry me. I woke, dying,

   In the summer sun of the hillside, with my eyes 
   Far more than human. I saw for a blazing moment 
   The great grassy world from both sides, 
   Man and beast in the round of their need, 
   And the hill wind stirred in my wool, 
   My hoof and my hand clasped each other, 
   I ate my one meal 
   Of milk, and died 
   Staring. From dark grass I came straight 

   To my father's house, whose dust 
   Whirls up in the halls for no reason 
   When no one comes    piling deep in a hellish mild corner, 
   And, through my immortal waters, 
   I meet the sun's grains eye 
   To eye, and they fail at my closet of glass. 
   Dead, I am most surely living 
   In the minds of farm boys: I am he who drives 
   Them like wolves from the hound bitch and calf 
   And from the chaste ewe in the wind. 
   They go into woods    into bean fields    they go 
   Deep into their known right hands. Dreaming of me, 
   They groan    they wait    they suffer 
   Themselves, they marry, they raise their kind.

-from Poems: 1956-1967

Purchase Dickeys' poems here



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