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Published Date: April 30, 2011

Published Date: April 30, 2011

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The Shepherd

I saw the angels. God’s holy angels.

It’s all I used to talk about: Angels

and the baby with the tired young mother.

It was something to see. Scared me to death.


For two years, I talked about little else.

“Angels, angels,” my wife used to complain.

“Never anything practical, like sheep.

And always watching the carpenter’s son

like you didn’t have two sons of your own.”


Two sons of my own. The son of prophecy

and two sons of my own. A man blessed;

that was me. A man of babies and angels;

a man of sheep and heavenly hosts.


Did I mention the angels were armed?

No, I only mentioned their words. Bright words

I took to a tired young mother, dark-eyed;

a thin young thing with eyes that knew too much.

She asked me if they were armed. I wondered why.


Then the scholars came. Such a caravan!

Bethlehem was as overrun as when we were taxed.

Their camels were everywhere. Their men asked

questions, questions, questions. I told their men

about the angels, and told the scholars, too.

Then, the scholars left. Quietly, like thieves.

They left their gifts and took our stories.

They left, and the next night the carpenter

was gone, too, with the child and his mother.

Where were the angels when the soldiers came?

“Where?” I cried to God when the soldiers came.

The carpenter’s son was gone and so were mine.

Gone, and Rachel left weeping, “Gone! Gone!”


Prophecy is a two-edged sword. Angels

come armed in peace, but not in destruction.

I watched my sheep in empty nights. I watched

my Rachel grow darker and darker until

Bethlehem was more than she could bear.


She left me to my sheep, my prophecies,

our two dead sons. A man cursed; that was me.

A man of absent sons and angels;

a man of sheep and long-night silent heavens.


She went back to her people in Bethany

and I eventually sold the sheep

and wandered, working odd jobs in cities

where I never had to be outside at night.

And I never mentioned angels. Not once.


Thirty years. I lived in almost every town

and I worked at almost every job

that offered a roof against the stars.

Whorehouses, stables, inns all gave me quarters.

So long as there were no angels, I was content.


Then, there was Jerusalem. I moved there

because even the towns were too rural.

I kept smelling sheep and seeing shepherds.

And my wife was buried in Bethany.


Jerusalem, how could I have known

I’d see her again? The dark-eyed young mother,

grown old and even thinner, unarmed

and weeping, standing among the soldiers,


her son being murdered; boy prophecy

grown into manhood and slowly dying.

Then, I saw them. God in Heaven, I saw them:

Angels, armed, pressing against the clouds!

And with them two sons of an ex-shepherd


armed with fire, their mother behind them

dressed in justice and ready to give the word

that would send angels against the mortal flesh

that dared to hang the immortal Word.


Mary’s dark eyes couldn’t see them; she

only saw the soldiers. No angels to dry

her mother’s tears with Roman blood, Jewish blood,

my blood for His. I saw the heavens crack

like a veil—like a veil of thunder


until he forgave us. The carpenter’s son

nailed to planks, his beard ripped off, clothes gone,

prayed, “Father, forgive them,” and I saw

the angels sheath their swords while his mother

wept, “Gone! Gone!” and no one could dry her tears.



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