The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want.
— Psalm 23:1
“I have other sheep that are not of this sheepfold …”
— John 10:16a
Davy made a face as she drank the goat’s milk.
“Don’t be makin’ no faces about that milk. Annie said that your brittle bones need what goat’s milk’s got. You break one more arm, Davy and I swear … I’ll break the t’other!” Davy had grown use to the broken arms, but she was sure that she could never get used to drinking goat’s milk. Aunty-Ma had tried every way on the face of God’s green earth to disguise the foul, wild taste. None had worked. Davy dutifully drank what remained in the glass and then asked, “May I be excused?”
“There’s no excuse for you!” Then Aunty-Ma burst out laughing at her own hilarious joke.
Davy left the kitchen and went to the backyard to climb the apple tree and think. The broken arms had left her arms skinny and her elbows knobby, but they were still strong enough to use to climb. The backyard apple tree was not a challenge, it just had good apples and was a proper place to think.
Once cradled in the arms of the trunk and an apple chosen, she set to thinking. “What would it like to be loved?” She did not say it aloud but spoke it in her head, just the same. She knew there were many kinds of love; there was gruff Aunty-Ma love and even Paw-Paw loved her in some sort of fashion. There was God-Love and there was movie-magazine love. She would settle for any of them, if they could just feel more real … if they could just be spoken. Davy tried to recall if there was ever a time that her mother said, “I love you, Davy,” before her untimely death. But did that really make a difference now, sitting in the arms of her backyard apple tree? “You love me, don’t you Mr. Apple Tree?” The tree did not respond, unless you could count the rustle of the wind through its leaves a response. “I’ll take that as a ‘yes.’”
Paw-Paw stood beneath the apple tree, glaring up at Davy, “What did I say about climin’?” He bent and picked up a stick that was too long for the whipping and broke it in two. “Your trips to the hospital have nearly bankrupted this family. I won’t have it. I won’t have you even climbing the backyard apple tree, dammit.” Davy threw the uneaten apple over the fence and gingerly jumped down from the tree. She followed Paw-Paw into the woodshed. As Paw-Paw administered the whipping with the apple tree branch, Davy said only half to herself, “I thought you said you loved me, Mr. Apple Tree?”
Davy’s house was not in town; it was across the viaduct and train tracks, near the river. They did not have a lot of neighbors but there were some. There were enough neighbors with children that on a Saturday afternoon there would be a dozen or more children in the school playground.
Davy sat in the swing dragging her feet in the dust as she swung back and forth. The others were idly sitting on the grass telling nasty jokes based on false book titles: “Trails in the Sand” by Peter Dragon or “Under the Bleachers” by Seymour Butts. These were not new jokes and Davy did not laugh. Eventually the group ran out of titles and fell silent. Raymond, the oldest boy suddenly blurted out, “I heard that the Old Goat Woman has sex with her goats.” “Ewwwwww,” all the little girls screamed. But another boy taunted back at Raymond, “And I hear that you have sex with your sister!” Raymond gave the younger boy the middle finger. It wasn’t a sloppy middle finger like the younger kids made, it was a hard middle finger with the two side fingers at just the right position. Davy had secretly made such a finger in the privacy of the barn. She pointed it at a rooster and then burst out laughing. Raymond wasn’t laughing now, he was glowering at his young accuser, “You don’t have sex with anybody, because you don’t even have a dick!” This dissolved into a volley of “do sews” and “do nots.”
Finally one of the younger girls asked, “Has anyone ever been inside the house of the Goat Woman?” Davy had seen the house but always remained in the truck when Aunty-Ma went to pick up their order of goat’s milk. On Halloween children refused to even trick or treat at the Goat Woman’s house. Not that it would do any good, the Goat Woman had neither tricks nor treats for the children. “My dad said she was a whore what moved here from the city,” said Raymond’s accuser. “My dad said she is a witch and he is the one that told me she messes with the goats.” Raymond’s voice got more excited as he heard himself speak, “I know what we ought to do! We should go tip over her outhouse!” The children responded unimpressed. “No, I have a better idea!”
Instead of walking home, Davy found herself walking toward the Goat Lady’s house. She was not exactly sure why, going home made more sense. Neither Paw-Paw or Aunty-Ma would be happy with her choice.
The fence was a pathetic imitation of a real fence. It was only half as high as what might be considered a normal fence. It had missing slats and the gate hung loosely on only one rusty hinge. It could not keep goats from escaping or uninvited guests from entering.
Davy stood at the fence and watched the goats. The young kids were cute and rambunctious. The older goats were oblivious to her has they chewed on anything that was nearby and easily accessible.
“Girl, you git now! You have no cause to be here.” Davy stood still watching the goats, “Can I pet one of the small ones?”
“What part of ‘git’ did you not understand? Just cuz your Aunty-Ma buys milk from me don’t give you no cause to trespass on my property!”
Davy ignored the women and stepped over the knee-high fence. “Do you give them names?” The Goat Woman only snorted. Davy knelt down and petted one of the kids.
“Deuteronomy,” the old woman replied, not so much as an answer to a question but as a statement of fact. Davy scratched the young goat behind the ears and repeated the name. “What about the others?” The Goat Woman listed off in a terse, chopped-off tone other Biblical names as she pointed, “Matthew, Mark, Luke, John.” And then the youngest kid hobbled toward Davy. “Jesus. That’n’s Jesus. And I ain’t bein’ sacrilegious. I ran out of names.”
Davy was surprised that the Goat Woman stood close to her now. She thought the woman might smell, but instead she generated a warmth. “And since you cain’t obey the rules and leave as properly asked, by me, you can help me out by bottling Jesus.” The old woman went to the shed and came back with a baby bottle. Davy held Jesus in her arms and the baby goat eagerly suckled at the bottle. “You thirsty, Jesus?”
“It ain’t sacrilegious,” said the old woman.
“I know,” said Davy. “It fits him fine.”
After feeding Jesus and wandering among the goats and learning a few more names an old goat wandered into the yard and butted the hip of her owner. “Methuselah, don’t be buttin’ me.” The old woman obviously had a great affection for this old Billy goat. And of all the goats Methuselah seemed the most human. Davy almost expected the goat to talk, like in a movie or television show. Instead it just bleated a deep naaaaaaah.
“I’m sorry, I’m gonna have to go home now,” said Davy.
“What? You’re not going to stay and allow me to serve you tea and crumpets? Now git, like I told you in the first place.”
“I’ll be back tomorrow,” Davy said cheerfully as she made a Gulliver-step over the tiny fence. The Goat Woman did not respond, she only stroked Methuselah’s back.
Early the next morning, Davy eagerly bounded out of the house and head out see Jesus. There was a spring in her step and she sang a made up song about goats. Davy stopped suddenly as she came upon the puzzling sight of the Goat Woman lying in the dusty yard. Davy pushed open the broken gate and ran to the sobbing woman. As she got closer she saw red on the ground that was obviously blood. It was not the blood of the old woman; it was the blood of Methuselah. The old woman held the dead goat in her arms and rocked back and forth like she was rocking an infant to sleep.” The woman did not sob or cry, she only repeated the word “no” over and over as if in repeating it eventually it would become true.
Davy did not know what to do at this moment. Acting only on instinct, she knelt down next to the woman and placed her arms around her and kissed her on the cheek. The old woman sank into a rag heap over the goat. Davy laid next to her, holding her stroking the old woman’s dirty, matted hair. Jesus stood nearby, watching.
WILL AND GRACE AT ROOSTER ROCK
Now there is in Jerusalem near the Sheep Gate a pool, which in Aramaic is called Bethesda and which is surrounded by five covered colonnades. Here a great number of disabled people used to lie —the blind, the lame, the paralyzed. One who was there had been an invalid for thirty-eight years.
Rooster Rock is one of the two nude beaches in Portland. People roll their eyes at me when I say I go to Rooster Rock to read my book, but for the most part it is true. We had some unseasonably warm weather in April and I did go to Rooster Rock to read my book.
There is one spot along the path, up from the river, that I have staked claim on. It has the perfect amount of shade and sun and a good view of the path for people watching. Some people stop and chat. Others simply smile or nod a hello. And a great many rush on by seeking companionship in the bushes.
The sun felt nice on my back and my book was a page-turner. No one stopped to chat that day except one man who asked me the title of my book. The sun indicated it was time to begin the hike back to the parking lot, my car, and clothed society. I was halfway to the steep path that leads up to the parking lot when I noticed a man sitting up on a small rise in the hill. He smiled at me and I quoted to myself the first line of the only poem I ever memorized, “Two roads diverged in a yellow wood …” I decided to investigate the man with the smile.
“Good afternoon, nice day to be out today, huh?”
He invited me to join him. We talked about the early nice weather and the number of people there today. I noticed the empty beer cans next to his cooler and was close enough to smell the alcohol on his breath. We sat silent for a moment. For whatever reason, I began to massage his back. “You don’t know how good that feels.” I said nothing and only continued to massage his back. “You don’t know how good that feels” became a mantra that he would repeat over and over as I rubbed his neck and back.
I instructed him to take off his shirt and to lie face down on his blanket. I knelt beside him and made long strokes down his back and kneaded his buttocks and legs. He was silent. As I looked at his face I could see the beginning of tears begin to form in his eyes. I instructed him to lie on his side facing me. I lay down next to him and placed my arms around him and pulled him into my chest. His face was cradled next to my neck and I began to rock him as I held him. “You don’t know how incredibly good this feels.” I stroked his hair.
“Do you ever get lonely?” he asked. “Yes, I do.”
As I held him he told me his name and occupation. He was a house painter. He told me that he had been coming to Rooster Rock for twenty-five years. He was 55 years old. He had had his first sexual experience with a man at Rooster Rock. He had had only a few boyfriends none had turned into any significant relationship.
When Jesus saw him lying there and learned that he had been in this condition for a long time, he asked him, “Do you want to get well?” “Sir,” the invalid replied, “I have no one to help me into the pool when the water is stirred. While I am trying to get in, someone else goes down ahead of me.”
We lay in a silent embrace as the sun set. “I guess I need to go now,” I said. We disengaged. “Thank you. You have wonderful hands,” he said. “Maybe I’ll see you again out here.”
Then Jesus said to him, “Get up! Pick up your mat and walk.”
I heard him open another can of beer as I walked away. He was waiting for angels.