The Unfaithful Shepherd
His brash tights tell the whole story:
a taste for the garish, a longing
for some lost joie de vivre
that’s settled down
into the swollen red sacks of his hose.
See how they run--
lift and run as he goes,
legs pounding like blood,
carrying the doughy bulk of his body,
a smile on his broad peasant face.
Because this is homily, Brueghel inclines
the bare field downward,
gravity like sin,
the ground rutted with last night’s rain;
its tracks arrowing the direction
the poor shepherd’s fleeing in.
His sheep too are running away,
their bodies soft white blurs of flight,
like angels ascending into callous air.
Now look to the right,
the wolf’s already there,
his muzzle stuck in the soft bowl
of a newborn lamb .
Whoever said, to live is not as easy
as to cross a field
must have known about nights
surrounded by the warm fug of animal breath,
where the wolves await, patient as death.
Persistence another kind of faith.
This poem was first published in Able Muse.
Editor's note: There is some confusion over the artist of the painting, as both father and son were artists with the same name of Pieter Bruegel. It is assumed today that the painting is by Pieter the Younger, and that it is a copy of the same painting by Pieter Bruegel the Elder, one that was lost. It may also be a follower or or student of the Elder: in these times, artists learned by copying their master's paintings.
Jeanne Wagner is the winner of several national awards: most recently the Arts & Letters Award, The Sow’s Ear Chapbook Prize and the Sow’s Ear prize for an individual poem. Her poems have appeared in Cincinnati Review, Alaska Quarterly Review, Shenandoah, Southern Review and
Hayden’s Ferry. She has four chapbooks and two full-length collections: The Zen Piano-mover
winner of the Stevens Manuscript Prize, and In the Body of Our Lives, published by Sixteen
Rivers in 2011.
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