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We were looking to bed down for the night,
get the flock together safe and the dogs
keeping watch. Rain had started to fall.

Then the sky blazed
and we heard music—
commanding and lofty
but warmhearted and human too.
It reached out and
found us where we lay.

Fear not, a voice said.
And out of the voice emerged a figure.
He looked like a man
but we knew he wasn’t.

How could we welcome such a one?
Offer him goats’ milk to drink?
Find a place for him in our tent,
smelling as it did of tallow and long days
handling animals,
on the move for months?

Before we could make up our minds,
the air came alive with angels’ wings—
air that a moment before had been
heavy with mud-mist and sheep funk.

The sound of their wings
was a river at floodtide.
Their plumage dazzled our eyes,
this choir half glimpsed
singing their message
of peace on earth,
a royal family in a stable,
a baby who was a king.

And when they had gone away
into heaven,
we looked at each other dumbstruck.
It was night again,
the dogs hung close and kept quiet.
Then someone said, Let us go and see.



Richard Tillinghast’s thirteenth book of poems, Blue If Only I Could Tell You, won the White Pine Press Poetry Prize in 2022. He lives in Hawaii in the winter and Tennessee in the summer.




Image courtesy of Nathan Anderson, via Unsplash.

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