from Summer Err
This week in the PEN Poetry Series, PEN America features an excerpt from a book-length poem by Brian Laidlaw.
Author note: This sequence is an excerpt from Summer Err, a book-length erasure of John Muir’s My First Summer in the Sierra. The source-text has a character—Muir’s boss on the sheep-driving trail—nicknamed “The Don,” who is a wealthy and incompetent shepherd. It feels especially timely, with the government shutdown having caused Muir’s beloved Yosemite Valley to become inundated with human waste.
The Don Cannot Agree About the Methods of Herding
The Don after some dispute
loudly claimed the right —as often as he pleased—
to do the herding himself,
then return to the lowlands rich.
Beyond the forests,
the head of the general
killed everything he saw or could think of.
flour, bread, sugar, tobacco, whiskey, needles
abundance, calm, indolence, action
succeeding each other in stormy rhythm like winter and summer—
these go far to cover the grossness of their lives.
and were so discouraged they
helped themselves to
several of the flock.
In their standpoint,
words had eaten all the sheep.
All sheepmen carry strychnine
to kill coyotes, bears, panthers,
little dog-like wolves,
that have learned to like mutton.
A gun loaded with buckshot fired excitedly,
without waiting to see the effect
on the wounded.
The shepherd seemed anxious to fight.
He stood glaring up,
threatening the flock,
After these disastrous experiences the shepherds
gathered a glorious bed of diamonds.
All was quiet.
They — near midnight — walked boldly to the corral,
climbed in, killed sheep, and smothered the frightened watcher,
saying he got a good clear view of them.
They lamented, “See my poor dead sheeps — all dead.”
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