Leonard Kress

Museling, a Pastoral
January 23, 2022 Kress Leonard

Museling, a Pastoral



I’m reading a poem by a young woman,
daughter of Afghan refugees, raised
in Germany, so English must be


her third language. Her poem longs
to return home, invoking Odysseus’
problematic and deferred arrival.


Halfway through, the word museling
appears, what I take to be a word she coined,
diminutive for muse, in keeping with the poet’s


diminished view of history and justice
but also her unwillingness to fully excise
myth from her world–museling,


like a fairy tale duckling.
Still, I look up the word and find
it’s a practice among Australian shepherds,


removing strips of wool-bearing skin
from a lamb’s buttocks to prevent
the parasitic infection flystrike,


to keep the skin free of feces and urine.
Do shepherds in the sparkling snow
of the Hindu Kush do this too, I wonder?


Did her ancestors? I can’t imagine,
though I can’t be sure
that this procedure was not


done to the flock of lambs in springtime
that often escaped from their pen
and congregated on my family’s new suburban lawn


to nibble the freshly sprouted fescue,
the Kentucky Blue and clover.
To me, a child of five, this was magical,


longing to hear the lamb’s innocent call,
as if conjured by a muse.
But if the poet has any compassion


for animals, I suspect she might follow
the lead of animal rights advocates
condemning the practice of museling,


sparing lambs from maggot infestation,
opting instead for more humane methods
like spray washing and special diets.


Or perhaps—since this is the poet’s third language—
and she was raised in Germany
and therefore subjected to local cuisine,


she might have simply reversed the letters
on the German breakfast cereal muesli
(oats and bran, walnuts and dried fruit)


part of healthy regimen modeled on the life
of Swiss shepherds. Everything, it seems,
always leads back to some version


of the Pastoral. And of course I know better
than to try and suss out the author’s
purpose, conscious or unconscious.


What do I know of Afghanistan?
Or the blood and soil breakfast
preferences of Nazi youth?

Leonard Kress has published poetry and fiction in Missouri Review, Massachusetts Review, Iowa Review, American Poetry Review, Harvard Review, etc. His recent collections are The Orpheus Complex, Thirteens, and Walk Like Bo Diddley. Live in the Candy Store and his new verse translation of the Polish Romantic epic, Pan Tadeusz by Adam Mickiewicz are both scheduled for 2018. He teaches philosophy and religion at Owens College in Ohio, USA and edits creative non-fiction for Artful Dodge.