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luís soares

Blog do escritor Luís Soares

Donald Hall - The Black-Faced Sheep

If one of you found a gap in a stone wall,

the rest of you—rams, ewes, bucks, wethers, lambs;

mothers and daughters, old grandfather-father,

cousins and aunts, small bleating sons—

followed onward, stupid

as sheep, wherever

your leader’s sheep-brain wandered to.


My grandfather spent all day searching the valley

and edges of Ragged Mountain,

calling “Ke-day!” as if he brought you salt,

“Ke-day! Ke-day!”


*         *         *


When the shirt wore out, and darns in the woolen

shirt needed darning,

a woman in a white collar

cut the shirt into strips and braided it,

as she braided her hair every morning.


In a hundred years

the knees of her great-granddaughter

crawled on a rug made from the wool of sheep

whose bones were mud,

like the bones of the woman, who stares

from an oval in the parlor.


*         *         *


I forked the brambly hay down to you

in nineteen-fifty. I delved my hands deep

in the winter grass of your hair.


When the shearer cut to your nakedness in April

and you dropped black eyes in shame,

hiding in barnyard corners, unable to hide,

I brought grain to raise your spirits,

and ten thousand years

wound us through pasture and hayfield together,

threads of us woven

together, three hundred generations

from Africa’s hills to New Hampshire’s.


*         *         *


You were not shrewd like the pig.

You were not strong like the horse.

You were not brave like the rooster.


Yet none of the others looked like a lump of granite

that grew hair,

and none of the others

carried white fleece as soft as dandelion seed

around a black face,

and none of them sang such a flat and sociable song.


*         *         *



Now the black-faced sheep have wandered and will not return,

even if I should search the valleys

and call “Ke-day,” as if I brought them salt.

Now the railroad draws

a line of rust through the valley. Birch, pine, and maple

lean from cellarholes

and cover the dead pastures of Ragged Mountain

except where machines make snow

and cables pull money up hill, to slide back down.


*         *         *


At South Danbury Church twelve of us sit—

cousins and aunts, sons—

where the great-grandfathers of the forty-acre farms

filled every pew.

I look out the window at summer places,

at Boston lawyers’ houses

with swimming pools cunningly added to cowsheds,

and we read an old poem aloud, about Israel’s sheep,

old lumps of wool, and we read


that the rich farmer, though he names his farm for himself,

takes nothing into his grave;

that even if people praise us, because we are successful,

we will go under the ground

to meet our ancestors collected there in the darkness;

that we are all of us sheep, and death is our shepherd,

and we die as the animals die.