A journal of narrative writing.
Many a Goat

Listen to “Many a Goat”
read by Alexandra Teague


The imitative faculties of the. . .boy and his desire for glory have been greatly stimulated by the coming of Buffalo Bill’s Wild West Show. Many a peaceful dog has been roped. . . by urchins whose imagination converted him into a bucking bronco; many a goat has been mistaken for a rampant buffalo and hunted over imaginary Rocky Mountains.

—Brooklyn Eagle, 1894

A rowdy teenager named René Secrétan, who liked to dress up in a cowboy costume he’d bought after seeing Buffalo Billís Wild West show, was probably the source of the gun.

—New York Times Book Review, Van Gogh—The Life, 2011

Even here in Auvers, the boys are not immune to the West’s wild lure. They buy drinks for Van Gogh—send their girlfriends to taunt with false seductions. Pretty peasants, innocent prostitutes: the imagination turns cotton to silk, cornflower blue into the red- striped candy of garters; farmyards into Hell- on-Wheels towns that roll behind rail crews like a dark flock of crows. Van Gogh understands this: mountains spiring through cornstalks, snow capping the summer fields: lead-white in a swirl of sunflowers. Many a peaceful dog would rather be a bronco. Many a boy, a canvas. Broken sky. The meringue of prairie schooners. The imaginary plains where guns gleam, pistol-twirled stars above cypress. Many a tree would rather be a church steeple. Many a church steeple: fire’s scorch and gutter through the thatches of men’s hearts. Maybe it’s true he steals the pistol— antique, likely to malfunction—holds it angle-askew in the field: a brush to swathe the wound of a body. Maybe it’s true the boys aim it. Their Dutch-Indian enemy, innocent, inebriated: Yellow Bonnet’s war paint and canvas: lodge poles of madness holding up his mind. They’ve seen it all before: blood on stage, and Bill himself, that scalp in his upraised fingers like a palette, a sun-spot, a gold-glass bottle. Van Gogh understands this. He is not the first man for whom death is beautiful.

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