Encounter in the Local Pub

By Eleanor Wilner b. 1937 Eleanor Wilner

Unlike Francis Bacon, we no longer believe in the little patterns we make of the chaos of history.
               —Overheard remark

As he looked up from his glass, its quickly melting ice,
into the bisected glowing demonic eyes of the goat,
he sensed that something fundamental had shifted,

or was done. As if, after a life of enchantment, he
had awakened, like Bottom, wearing the ears of an ass,
and the only light was a lanthorn, an ersatz moon.

It was not that the calendar hadn’t numbered the days
with an orbital accuracy, its calculations
exact, but like a man who wants to hang a hammock

in his yard, to let its bright net cradle him, but only
has one tree, so hewild and aware of itknew
he had lost the order he required, and with it, rest

his thoughts only a sagging bundle of loose ends,
and the heart, a naked animal in search of a pelt,
that once fell for every Large Meaning it could

wrap itself in, as organs are packed in ice for transit
from one ending to the next, an afterlife of partsand
the whole? Exorbitant claimnot less than all,

and oddly spelled; its ear rhyme is its opposite,
the great hole in the heart of things. The goat,
he noticed, had a rank smell, feral. Unnerved,

he looks away, watches the last of his ice
as it melts, the way some godlike eye might see
the mighty glaciers in a slow dissolve back into sea.

He notes how incommensurate the simile, a last
attempt to dignify his shaking gaze, and reaches
for the bill; he’s damned if the goat will pay.

Source: Poetry (February 2010).

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This poem originally appeared in the February 2010 issue of Poetry magazine

February 2010
 Eleanor  Wilner

Biography

Eleanor Wilner was born in 1937 in Ohio. She earned a BA from Goucher College and a PhD from Johns Hopkins University, where she completed her dissertation on the imagination, a work later published as Gathering the Winds: Visionary Imagination and Radical Transformation of Self and Society (1975).  Active in civil rights and peace movements, Wilner is known for writing poetry that engages politics, culture, history, and myth. . . .

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Poem Categorization

SUBJECT Living, Time & Brevity, Arts & Sciences, Philosophy

Poetic Terms Free Verse

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