End of the Line

Roy Blount Jr. Gets His Goats

Not feeling sheepish about the barnyard Billy

Photo: Barry Blitt

Why would Henry Lawrence Faulkner, an artist, interrupt a University of Kentucky football halftime show by walking across the field with an unleashed goat at his side, holding (Henry holding) a rabbit on a heart-shaped pillow?

Well, you can’t hold a goat on a heart-shaped pillow. 

Forget about the rabbit. This goat, whose name was Alice, may have been drinking. The football crowd went wild.

That would have been back in the seventies, which were, believe me, the days. I never knew Henry Faulkner, but am reliably informed he was Kentucky born and divided his time between Lexington and Key West, Florida, where he socialized with Tennessee Williams. An even hipper friend was Alice, who would accompany Henry to gallery openings, including his own shows of jam-packed, exuberant still lifes. At these events, Alice would sample other people’s drinks, accepting only bourbon. 

She could hold it, too, although like anyone, she would get tipsy. At those times, Faulkner told an interviewer, “she almost has wings. And I’m sure, if they would pop out they’d be gold.” She had a mate, named Plato, with whom she had kids. When Alice died, a natural death, Henry went into a deep depression.

Know this about goats: They have four stomachs (technically, four stomach chambers), which can digest just about anything organic (no, not tin cans), the rougher the better. They’d rather eat briars, kudzu, and poison ivy. Just don’t let them get ahold of rhododendrons, which are toxic to them. 

Most of this I have learned online. I’ve never had a goat myself, but one of the finest things, of its kind, I ever wrote, in my opinion, is “Ode to New Marlborough’s Land-Clearing Goats: Buddy, Brooklyn, Remington and Sparkles.” The opening stanzas:

Bite by bite our goats advance
Through the coarse invasive plants.
Sharp goat teeth serve tough goat throats—
You go, goats!
No ifs, ands or butts—
Our! Goats! Got! Guts!

New Marlborough is the New England village to which I escape for summers and pandemics. Those goats were brought in to help develop a thorny tangle of land into a park. The project didn’t pan out, but no fault of the goats, who took on their role with relish. 

And now my friends Tom Rankin and Jill McCorkle, who live along the Eno River in Orange County, North Carolina, have celebrated their goats in a lovely book, Goat Light. “I’ve often thought,” writes Tom, who took the photographs, “that the real reason to have a herd of goats is for the views and vistas, the panoramic scenes as they tromp through an overgrown pasture, jumping just enough for me to see their horns and ears.” Jill focuses more on the goats’ relationships: 

“You will never convince me that they aren’t thinking many of the same things we are and acting accordingly. Proof? Jane, in these more mature years, seems to have forgiven her old, tired mother.”

Goats have fascinated people over the years. In the face they look like a cross between Lamb Chop and Jefferson Davis. Or Uncle Sam. Or Ho Chi Minh. They pop up in the Bible (eternally damned, for some reason) and along with scripture in the life story of the great Satchel Paige.

Among baseball pitchers, the Mobile-born Paige may have been the GOAT, or Greatest of All Time, but we’ll never know for sure because, being Black, he was excluded (for some reason) from the big leagues till well past his prime. He was mysterious about his age. “My birth certificate was in our Bible. And our goat ate the Bible,” he would tell interviewers. “That goat lived to be twenty-seven.”

According to Satchel: The Life and Times of an American Legend, by Larry Tye, Satchel, while playing in Puerto Rico, met a woman whose parents’ house was “built on wooden stilts, with enough room underneath for suckling pigs, chickens, and goats.” One of the goats was sitting in a rocking chair on the porch, rocking. “Anytime you can train a goat to do that,” Paige told a friend, “you know these must be pretty nice people. And as pretty as she is, I’m going to marry that girl.”

I met Satchel twice. Once he was eating a piece of fried chicken. “I thought you said, ‘Avoid fried foods. They angry up the blood,’” I said.

“I said avoid ’em,” he said. “I didn’t say I avoided ’em.”

Here’s a goat-related thing that I am told, by people who have practiced it, is pretty funny:

Goat yoga.