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?