What The Shepherds Saw
I blamed the crowds on the Roman census.
The Romans demand and the people panic,
desperate to obey them.
Long ago, Pharaoh, now Caesar, they fear.
I had no rooms. My inn was full.
Same all over Bethlehem.
He understood, the young man.
From Nazareth he said he was, a carpenter.
On my doorstep, I spoke to him.
Told him my plate could take no more,
my bowl full to the brim.
The day dimming to dusk,
the young woman behind him,
sat on a donkey, I could not see clearly,
her head hooded, bent forward, in shadow.
She was pregnant, he told me,
her first child soon due.
So in his string there was a knot
he wanted to undo.
I am not a hard man. I felt pity.
Told him I had room for the donkey
in my stone stable.
They could shelter there with him,
if they wished.
Busy though I was, I showed them the place,
behind my inn, in my backyard.
So sometimes a lamp is lit,
and life can seem less hard.
They seemed grateful. They thanked me.
Said it was better than an open field,
a wall by a pig pen.
Pleasant they were, like few I have met,
but I do not remember when.
A fat merchant took my last room.
They deserved it more than him,
but like fish, we do not decide
in what streams we swim.
I slept that night,
as even busy innkeepers must.
I woke once, long before dawn,
and felt warm inside my chest,
like I was a newly baked loaf of bread
with a crispy, golden crust.
Queerly, the room seemed removed
into a deeper darkness, a profounder peace.
I felt glad to be awake,
but I could not grasp why.
In the kitchen that morning,
the stable boy walked in,
slowly for him, I thought.
His eyes large in his head,
as if in a dream, he stopped in the doorway.
“The woman in the stable gave birth in the night,”
he told me, as if he were about to cry.
“Some shepherds came to see her child.
They came down from the hills.
They told me what they saw.”
“What was it? What did they see?”
I asked him, but he would say no more.
His face hardened, his mouth jammed.
He seemed reluctant to answer me.
“Something,” he said, finally.
“But you would not believe.”
Then he turned, was about to leave.
“But what was it?” I asked him again.
“Something,” he said. “Something wonderful.”
Then he ran off, as the young are apt to do.
Of what the shepherds saw,
he never gave a further clue.