The Goat God


To the boy who comes in summer the country
is a land of green mysteries. Certain kinds of plants
are bad for the she-goat: her paunch begins to swell
and she has to run it off. When a man's had his fun with a girl–
girls are hairy down there–her paunch swells with a baby.
The boys snigger and brag when they're herding the nannies,
but once the sun goes down, they start looking nervous and scared.
The boys can tell if a snake's been around, they know
by the wriggling trail he leaves behind him in the dust.
But nobody knows when a snake is sliding through the grass.
The nannies know. There are nannies who like to lie
in the grass, on top of the snake, they like being suckled.
Girls like it too, they like being touched.

When the moon rises, the nannies get skittish,
and the boys have to round them up and prod them home. Otherwise,
the wild goat goes berserk. Rearing up in the meadow, ramping,
he gores the nannies and disappears. Sometimes girls in heat
come down to the woods, at night, alone;
they lie in the grass and bleat, and the wild billy comes running.
But once the moon is high, he goes berserk, he gores them.
and that's why the bitches bay in the moonlight,
because they've caught the scent of the wild goat leaping
on the hill, they've sniffed the smell of blood.
And the animals in the stalls start quivering.
All but the hounds, the big ones, they're gnawing at their ropes,
and one, a male, breaks loose and tears off after the goat,
and the goat spatters the dogs with blood–hotter, redder
than any fire–until they're all crazy drunk, wild
with blood, dancing and ramping and howling at the moon.

At dawn the dog comes home, savaged and snarling,
and the bitch is his reward. The peasants kick her to him.
If the boys come home at dark, with one of the nannies missing,
or a girl goes roaming at night, they're punished, beaten.
They make their women pregnant, the peasants, and go on working
just the same. Day or night they wander where they like.
They aren't afraid of hoeing by moonlight, or making a bonfire
of weeds and brush in the dark. And that's why the ground
is so beautifully green, and the plowed fields at dawn
are the color of sunburned faces. They harvest the grapes,
they eat and sing. They husk the corn, they dance and drink.
The girls are all giggling, then one girl suddenly remembers
the wild goat. Up there, on the hilltop, in the woods
and rocky ravines, the peasants saw him butting his head
against the trees, looking for the nannies. He's gone wild,
and the reason why is this: If you don't make an animal work,
if you keep him only for stud, he likes to hurt, he kills.


                                  Italian; trans. William Arrowsmith


Cesare Pavese, Italian, trans. William Arrowsmith, Hard Labor, Ecco Press, 1976.