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.