Drafting: “The Sheep Child”

Today I sat down to work on a submission to send out to one of my dream journals that does not accept simultaneous submissions (Beloit Poetry Journal, North American Review, The Southern Review, etc.). I figured I’d send it out to BPJ first since I received a lovely encouraging rejection from them recently (and they’re super fast on their response times), then NAR once I heard back from BPJ, then SR once I heard back from NAR. This way I could circulate the same set of poems and have a submission ready to go once I heard back from one of them.

Since a lot of my unpublished poems are circulating right now, I pulled out some new work and started revising them. Once I was done for the moment with those, I went back through some old poems to see if I could pull something new from/out of them. One poem in particular made me think of James Dickey’s poem, “The Sheep Child,” which I read recently to add to my MFA reading list. It’s such a creepy poem, but I started thinking about what it might have been like had the sheep child lived, this poor one hoofed, one handed creature.

It begins,

“Mother shed me like the coat
my father shears off her every summer,
leaving me in a furrow, blinded
by the sun beating off the heat-crippled field.”

I also include a scene from the vulture poem I drafted a couple of weeks ago. I really liked the idea of the mother abandoning the child and vultures finding it first, so I was able to use the imagery of the vulture’s heads as they circle the child.

The poem is in three stanzas right now. The father rescues the child from the vultures only to stick it in a storm shelter and have a blind servant feed it grass and beef. I’m pretty unsure of the ending, but after going through a bunch of different options, I finally settled on one that shows the passage of time (it mentions snow vs. the heat-crippled field in the first stanza), as well as shows the character’s longing for something more (it tries to gather snow through the cracks in the door). I’m really pleased with this draft, and we’ll see how it works out with some more revisions!

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