The Goat

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Every morning I drive into town and he’s there.  The goat.  It doesn’t matter if it’s early or late, sunny or raining, sweltering or cold, this damn goat is right there, holding court over the hillside — his hillside — atop his hay bale.  Look at his stance, his face.  So sure, so stern, so “you lookin’ at me?”  He’s not messing around, this goat.  I keep thinking of what my grandmother used to say when the boys taunted me in 5th grade or when the girls at a new school made fun of my clothes or when my uncles would pin me to the ground and bury their knuckles in my chest until I cried: Don’t let ’em get your goat! 

I haven’t written much of anything for the last two weeks.  Instead, I’ve spent a ridiculous number of minutes and hours scrolling and scanning and looking at photos and mock-ups and memes of the confederate flag, reading phrases like “heritage not hate” and “southern pride” to the point where I just can’t look anymore.  I feel my uncles dig their fists into my chest.  I hear my long-dead grandmother’s voice saying Don’t let ’em get your goat! and I picture my cousin’s son with the confederate flag tattoo on his arm, the flag draped with a noose, and I think, does that noose also serve the “heritage not hate” banner?  Does that noose say pride?

I keep going back and re-reading part of an article by Kareen U. Crayton in The New York Times where she writes:  We can all respect that some people do not view the flag that way.  But the flag has also become inextricably associated with ideologies that most Americans should find disgusting.  Symbols embraced by the state ought to bring people together rather than divide them.  I see the South Carolina senate has voted today, 36-3, to remove the confederate flag from the statehouse grounds, and yet I’m starting to wonder if, for as much as we say we crave togetherness in these supposedly “united” states, we are, sadly, most at home in, most comforted by, our isolation and division.  Most at home in our chosen camps.

The saying “get your goat” is said to have originated in horse racing, where goats were kept with nervous racehorses to keep them calm.  The urban dictionary says the goat is a metaphor for peacefulness. When your goat is with you, you are calm, and “the best way to get someone’s goat is by means of clever annoyance.”  This morning, as usual, I drove by my goat.  There he was, right where he always is, and for the first time in these months I pulled my car onto the dirt road next to his hay bale.  I’ve stopped scrolling and scanning, shifting my focus back to my own center.  I parked and stepped out of my car.  I stepped forward.  When the goat saw me coming his way he stood up and leaned my direction, holding our ground.

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14 thoughts on “The Goat

  1. triciatierney

    A lovely piece – but I’m pissed off at your asshole uncles and want to go back in time and yank them off of you. Or enlist the help of that goat – he looks like he could kick some ass – and seeing as you’re friends now, I bet he’d be glad to do so for you.

  2. Suzy Vitello

    It must be so all-enveloping for you to be back in the South – now. Now with all the disconnect and passion. The goat is a lovely symbol – a totem creature – for all you’ve described in your wonderful essay.

  3. koehlerjoni

    It astounds me that people feel so strongly about this racist symbol. There was a war. The South lost. Yet every day I encounter people who seem like reasonable folks and they are defending the flag. All of us need to get our goats together and calmly but firmly say no to this symbol in public life. In spite of what others say, symbols are important.

  4. annapauthor

    Maybe that’s why people born under the sign of Capricorn are known for being steady and reasonable. Most of the time.

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