On the Hillside
Perspectives of a Bethlehem Sheep

by William Loader

Lonely, lying on damp night soil,
cold, not even a fly to irritate and keep me awake,
another night, another long day of seeking and finding,
mowing amid the pebbles and stones
that sweep up and down the slopes of ancient Bethlehem's hills.

And now this interruption. They sat all agog
and suddenly they are off down the valley.
Temperament, I call it.
Never satisfied.
If it's not voices of angels, it's bright lights.
Running to and fro,
why not rest?
Why not curl up and go to sleep?

If you lie close to the earth and listen you'll hear voices.
It's all there, deep down there.
Just lie still and you'll hear it.
Sometimes I hear it groaning
like a mother finding that bursting feeling too much,
expanded beyond expansion and expected to give more.

Last night I heard it, ringing it was,
a crying that shot through the earth,
fair woke me up it did,
like an alarm going off.
The gods, I thought, the gods are bringing forth.

And then it subsided and all I heard were the distant cries,
the murmurs of the hungry,
the sighs of people fed too little, broken in spirit,
too weak to complain, too tired to rise.

There's no glory in being tired.
You don't win prizes if your coat's shabby.
No good rolling in them bushes.
No one wants bits and things,
and it tangles and if you're not careful
when it gets hot they'll come
and buzz around you and soon the worms
and that's the end of that.

Silly, but I follow with the rest.
Just imagine if I hyped it off down the valley.
I'd prefer to stay here - with them.
With it - with the smell.
Don't ever lose your smell!
That's the trouble with them people,
running off, bright lights, hearing voices.
There's a closeness about smell.
Smell's a way of being close, your smell, my smell,
smell right down to the dirt and smell of the earth.
Warm smell.

Then there's that terrible smell,
when it burns, when it burns you.
It's the hair - a tight smell,
no room for imagining, sharp, penetrating.
Sometimes it wafts down from the temple
along the valley on a wet hangy night
and I think: there it is again, that smell. And I think of burning and blood.

It's there again tonight, coming up the valley,
like a cloud.
It comes with the crying,
a lullaby of death,
like all the world's passion is poured out
and souls burn amid the haze.

Will they come back? Are they lost?
Who can find them,
chasing lights and hearing voices?
I shall wait for them to return.
On these hills, in the stillness,
listening to the pain,
in the joy of deep smell
and the challenge of burning,
open to the vastness of heaven,
I shall lie and gaze upon the star.

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