Would you do what this artist did? The one
who bought fresh goat’s blood to pour
over the cornucopia he sculpted in protest
of the war, its dark mouth large enough
for a yearling kid to sleep in, its head tucked
between its glossy hooves: for in his mind
the animal was clean, the farm a bright,
mechanical place where anyone could buy
clear bags of meat and blood. But the farm
he found was poor, its owner’s health
failing, and so the artist watched
as the farmer trudged into his muddy
copse with a pail to pull two thin animals
into the barn, struggling to lock his knees
around the smallest one’s neck, its hips
and triangular head twisting in his grip
so that he levered his blade clumsily
through the goat’s vertebra, forced to saw
down through the tough neck muscles, the animal’s head
violently shaking no, no, no until the head
pulled free and was thrown upon the ground.
Then the man knelt down and punched his knife
through the belly to pull out viscera, fresh
and hot, the dark blood pumping into the pail
as the other goat backed against the far wall, screaming—
Would you have chosen to stop?
Or would you have continued, knowing
you wanted the blood because of the horn: symbol
both of plenty and of suffering, because it was a goat
who nursed the god who snapped this horn off
once in play? And blessed it, later, in order to be
forgiven. That the horn recalled the grain
of the once-fertile nation your country has invaded:
its fields long ago depleted by war and drought.
The goat is ancient, milky-eyed.
She’s half-blind, though she can smell
what’s happened to her companion:
the whole barn is thick with the death
that will now be hers. Would you keep going?
Does the first animal’s suffering only make sense
if you complete your art, finish the sculpture in a way
the war will never be finished, the great horn
clotted with blood and displayed
in the foyer of the museum that commissioned it?
The show will be titled after a line from The Iliad:
“Freighted with Dark Pains,” a description of the arrow
shot by one nation’s soldier into the heart of another.
The curators chose the title for the beauty
of that line; perhaps for its suggestion
that the body giving and the body receiving pain
were both equally blameless: only the arrow
delivers sorrow, only the arrow aches
as it rips through skin and muscle, into the tender
flank of the animal you are even now
stroking in your arms. How can you not
hush and cluck at her, soothing the goat
the way you’d soothe the fears of anyone
you loved, bending down to gather her body
even more tightly against your chest,
because the animal is old, already dying,
because you’re tired of watching
such frantic suffering, and because
it is not your knife carrying the pain.