(from Advent Longings, copyright 1997)
Our hillside fire seems feeble tonight.
Although it is a warm clear night, there is
no moon. The flames reflect in eyes, on beards,
more like the rush lights on our hearths at home,
where women wait, weaving to ease the hours
until this shepherds’ watch is over and
we head for home again. The vast mantle
of inky sky is no more bright or dark
than a thousand others we’ve sat under, wide
awake or dozing, ‘midst the soft and rumbling
breath of sheep, the fire’s crackle. But
this sky presses down, pulses with promise.
What is it that unsettles us tonight?
Our daily round goes on without event–
from lambing time to shearing, we keep pace
with seasons, and the stars look on, impassive.
But tonight those cold stars seem to shimmer,
whisper “soon”…and ‘though we shepherds shrug
and shake our heads, we settle with less ease
into the folds of cloaks, and each of us
sits wakeful, and we wonder, “What comes soon?
Or who? And will we recognize the coming?”
Like as not, out here among the beasts,
we’ll miss it altogether. Still–as stars
become a candle-flickering haze before
our eyes–we wonder, “When?” And hope–against
all odds–that it is soon, and we’ll be told…