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From the grazing-hill I saw the wooden braces
raising Whitby’s towers
And I saw the Lady Hilda a virgin mother
herself lay offering upon the cornerstone
Soon the cote and stable were built
at the north of the holy altar

I know nothing of holy altars I cannot
sing the Roman liturgy (at least with meaning)
But I can gather straw and carpet
the stones of my cote
And I can wash my cows and pour oil—
no less sacred than chrism though
it is a balm for wounds—
upon their bristled bodies

The first night I saw the windows lit
from beeswax candles in the sanctuary
I cannot forget
There was a window of a shepherd
king, shouldering lambs
And every night I see still
the jeweled shepherd cut in light
his horn of oil full and liberal

When the stable sleeps I take my harp
(I am told the shepherd king played songs
that chased away devils—mine does more
and invites instead melodious angels)
At first the angels and the devils sounded
so much alike—I waited for Roman angels
to sing the liturgy but my harp called
those who sing in cowherd’s language,
a tongue of the cote, not of the chapel
“You will sing of origins,” rang the first
angel in my harpstrings my hand moved
to follow her path producing a hymn
that never choir sang:
an English message of creation
Each note paired with angel word
made straws of silver on the floor
and jeweled light washed my cattle
of earthy stains, made the cows God’s creatures
my eyes as Adam’s in the mid-earth garden

To sing of origins is to set a course
to anoint a present where cows and angels
cowherds and shepherd kings
all shine in heaven’s light
Nu sculon herigean      heofonrices Weard  
          Meotodes meahte      and his modgeþanc,  
          weorc Wuldor-Fæder      swa he wundra gehwæs  
          ece Drihten      or onstealde 


Brandon James O’Neil is from Rochester, Michigan, and is currently a graduate student at the University of Iowa. His writing has appeared in the Walt Whitman Quarterly Review, Christian Science Sentinel, and the Jung Foundation’s  Quadrant.



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