“Of Goats, Cellos and Violins”
The Goatherd by Larry D. Thomas (Mouthfeel Press 978-0-9912087-4-6, $12)
The Goatherd by Larry D. Thomas centers on a lone Mexican farmer Gilberto Luna and his goatherd in the Chihuahuan Desert. The poems are short and can be read quickly, but do not think that these poems are lightweight. They are dense, taking the reader deep into the life and consciousness of Gilberto; and every poem, like a strong musical composition, builds to a crescendo.
A spiritual dimension runs throughout the book. The collection’s first three poems, for instance, “Billy,” “Nanny,” and “The Bible” establish an Adam-and-Eve theme. “Billy” begins at night in the desert with Gilberto’s sleep disturbed as he ponders “his alpha buck” and how God created the goat for the challenging Chihuahuan Desert’s terrain. After detailing the practical traits given to the goat by God, the poem ends with a twist: “…God was so pleased/with His handiwork/of horns, eyes, and hooves/He used them all/to make a perfect Satan” (13). “Billy” is a wonderful opening poem, for in it the reader receives the protagonist’s view of his goat’s creation, and with the ending bringing in Satan, the poem moved beyond the literal and into the symbolism and metaphor that a Billy goat possesses. These three poems set the tone for the collection, uniting the mundane with the spiritual, thereby highlighting the importance of the goats to the protagonist’s life.
The final poem is “Munificence” and the book ends with the lines: “The walls of their bowels,/sliced thinly into strips,/serve as sutures; string/cellos and violins” (32). We learn more of Gilberto’s uses for his herd, from food to music. The book’s setting, as mentioned earlier, is the Chihuahuan Desert, and after taking the reader through the isolation and danger of the place, Larry ends with “cellos and violins,” symbols of civilization and camaraderie. Using this closing image, not only tells us how important the herd is to Gilberto, but “cellos and violins” lets the reader see how important the herd is to all humanity.
As one has come to expect from Larry’s work, these poems are rendered with masterful precision and profound thought. While focused on Gilberto and his goats, The Goatherd takes the reader into the intimate relationship shared between humans and nature, shedding light on what it means to be human.
Reviewed by Hardy Jones