Ernest G Moll
Sheep-Killer - Poem by Ernest G Moll
I should have known, when I undid his chain,
That darkness had been busy at his brain
As at an anvil, sharpening a fang.
I should have known it by the glint that sprang
Into his eyes when the chain fell and he
Stood stiffly there, as though to let me see
That he had all the time in the world to spare,
If I so felt, to match me stare for stare,
His heart being innocent.
I watched him go
Out through the gate with just the slightest show
Of hurry in his trot, as though he kept
His body back from where his thoughts leapt
Ahead to the red kill; that holding back
A dog will never show unless the track
He follows is a secret he would keep
From men whose fingers smell of lambs and sheep.
I should have known, had I but had the eye,
That strain in hip and curving flank and thigh
For what must happen in a hawk's neck when
He spots the quail way down there, but with men
Too near in yard or paddock to make safe
The whistling lunge; the tension of that chafe
That is when lust has the red tongue on fire
But cunning is the muzzle on desire.
So he went slowly till I lost him quite
In the thick fog that made another night
Over the paddocks where beneath the trees
The lambs would be hard at it on their knees
Draining the heavy udders. In that fog
A lamb would learn the coming of a dog
Too late even to get upon its feet,
Or in one wild and lost and desperate bleat
To say that death was hard and life was sweet.
He got his fifty in a mile that day,
Crunched through the shoulders in the killer's way,
Ribs broken in to crush the leaping heart.
Though great my loss, I recognized the art
With which the thing was done. What speed, what power,
He must have known for that one breathless hour,
When long restraint was straw before the urge
Of instinct, the red longing, the hot surge
That leapt and thundered and would not be still
Till fifty lambs lay dead about the hill!
He always liked to work the sheep close in,
Sniffing the blood, no doubt, beneath the skin
He dared not tear because of watching eyes.
Why did I trust that shifty compromise!
Why must sheep stand, by fear together drifted,
Helpless as flowers when the scythe is lifted!
Who was at fault, the dog, or I, or the sheep?
But since a farmer needs must have his sleep,
That night I put a bullet in his head,
Gave the world back to God, and went to bed.
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