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Herders Moving a Flock Down Highway 395
A thousand sheep crowding the mountain road
Make it look like a dirty-foam-capped river
In this dim light. They've blocked the truck ahead.
His double chrome exhaust pipes snort and quiver.
He needs to be getting on, and so do I,
And all those headlights behind us, stopped at dawn.
The road is narrow, the mountain stops the eye
Rightward, thin air on the left goes on and on.
Sleepy, hatless, uncombed, after a night on the ground
In the clothes they're wearing, two herders amble
Behind the fl ock, and the three dogs in sight
Keep the fl anks neat -- make a rare laggard scramble.
What leads the fl ock is a burro, while a third
Man wades along in their midst -- now and then waves
A bough torn from a bay tree over the herd.
Dew soaks their wool and the dark, fresh bay leaves.
Across the blat and clatter, through the daze
Of recent sleep he sees us apparitions
With a wide, fl ashing, and incurious gaze
Now that we creep past in our own conditions.
Now that we creep past in our own conditions
And catch in the dawn, along with the ancient moral
Of simple sheep, and shepherds, and our ambitions,
Reek of damp wool, pungency of torn laurel.
Early summer, 1982; August, 1996