by Alys Thorpe
dear lord, forgive me that I did not come
down from my fields at midnight's bell
to worship at your stall, but at the time
a matchless ewe, too young, too early, to her labour came
and I knelt in the snow, my hands all crusted and unclean
to stretch out to your singing host. I laid
my weathered cheek instead in laboured, shivering fleece,
held by her trusting, shuddering eye, until
her perfect son was born into my rough loving palm.
Too weak and tired she, I had to help her
clean him of birth's blood,
then from the frost I wrapped them both inside my worsted coat,
and slept beside them till they smelled the dawn,
and your sweet carillon below
proclaimed the Christmas morn.
one way or another, though I did intend
to find my way down to the wooden stall
to hear a sermon as I heard the young voiced choir from my hill,
the moment never came, always a wandering beast
with waterlogged fleece, foolhearted, needing rescue, or a hoof
to be pared a little and made clean, a little wound, sometimes a maggot
or a tic, a tare – I do not know, a little medicine, a little special food,
some extra warmth, some balm, some liniment,
some silence in the soul, one way and another all
the sermons I have heard, have been
warnings of thunder, and the song of sunset and of dawn,
the spike of frost, the kindliness of earth, the thoughtless
rumours of the distant cruelties of men.
and now too late I know, thoughts that were always
somewhat turned your way, inform me that
your path I'll not now take, down to the wooded
church I mean, and past its paint peeled gate.
I've left a note for when the master passes by,
praying that in my shroud he'll lay a hank of wool with me,
that when your angels meet me at your door they'll know
that I meant well, and always longed to come
to worship with clean choirs and shining eyes,
but that it was for me, as ever is for you,
though worship lovely is, and cleanly, wholesome,
sweet, the sheep must always take first place.