© 2006, Joyce Johnson
Shepherds of the Range
The lights shone gay that Christmas Eve. The dance had just begun,
With cowboys come from miles around, all fixed to have some fun.
The fiddler's foot was pattin' fast, the caller's voice sung out:
"Now swing your pardners, skin the coon and turn him wrong side out!"
'Twas music and 'twas laughter in the schoolhouse on the hill.
When from the bitter night outside a wailing shout rose shrill.
Quick stepped a cowboy to the door and swung it open wide.
In ragged clothing, white with snow, a chico stepped inside--
A Spanish kid with frightened face, his eyebrows rimmed with frost.
"May God have mercy, friends!" he cried. "My Tío Juan is lost
On Malpai Mesa with his sheep--the blizzard made them stray.
The cliffs along the rim are steep!" They let him have his say,
And though he spoke in Spanish, there were some that understood:
The kid had come to beg their help, yet feared 'twould do no good.
"Sheepherder lost?" One cowboy shrugged. "That don't spell me no woe!
On with the dance! It's Christmas Eve!" But another said: "Let's go!"
They rode aslant the driving storm with quip and joke and jest,
To where a craggy mesa loomed some five miles to the west.
Some damned the whole sheepherder tribe with many a hard-cussed name.
Some claimed 'twould be good riddance--but they rode on just the same.
They rode out in the bitter night, the warm lights left behind.
'Twas midnight when, with freezing feet, at last they made their find.
They found old Tío Juan alive and packed him in to thaw.
They rounded up what sheep they could to shelter in a draw.
"Well, damn sheepherders, anyhow! He spoilt our Christmas Eve!
We'll git back to the baile, boys, just when it's time to leave!"
Thus grumbled one young cowhand, but the fiddler cut him short:
"I'll fiddle plumb to daylight if the women think I ort.
And as for cussin' shepherds, son, if I remember right,
Seems like it's in the Bible how they watched their flocks at night,
And when the Star of Bethlehem brung Christmas long ago,
The fellers first to see it--they was herdin' sheep, y'know!"
© 1954, S. Omar Barker, reprinted with the permission of the estate of S. Omar Barker, further reproduction without explicit permission is prohibited.
Read more of S. Omar Barker's poetry here.
A Lonely Christmas
The foreman and his missus
had invited me to share
their supper on this Christmas Eve
and to join their evening prayer.
Their little ones with shining eyes
gazed at the Christmas tree;
excited about their Christmas socks
and the presents there would be.
I walked back to the bunkhouse
beneath a cloudless sky,
searching to find the Christmas Star
still shining there on high.
The bunkhouse was warm but lonesome
with no other cowboys there.
They'd all gone home for Christmas.
I pretended not to care.
Christmas carols on the radio
brought back thoughts of the star
that had shone down on pastures
in that Eastern land so far.
Taking off my vest and fancy shirt
I threw them on the trunk.
I stripped down to my underwear
and crawled into my bunk.
My day had started early;
I had worked hard with the crew
so they could start their Christmas fun
when all the chores were through.
With no wife or kids to need me
I had told them I would stay
and watch out for the cattle.
They could have their Christmas Day.
The warm room made me sleepy
and I started in to doze.
Right there before my bugging eyes
that Christmas Star arose.
I was a lonely shepherd
in that land so far away,
who had been left to guard the sheep
until the break of day.
I heard the angels singing
and saw the moving star.
I marveled at the wonder
and glory from afar.
The bright star beckoned to me
and angels led the way
to where the future King of all
lay in a mound of hay.
I wanted so to follow them,
but I had pledged my word.
I had to turn a deaf ear to
the messages I heard.
I knew my solemn duty lay
In guarding helpless sheep.
I prayed the Lord's forgiveness but
the vigil I must keep.
The star reflected in the eyes
of creatures all around
just waiting for the lonely stray
or any sheep they found.
I could not leave my flock behind
to seek Him out that night,
but I knew I never would forget
that glorious, wondrous sight.
I had this dream some years ago,
and should that star reappear
I've hung my rope and saddle up.
I can follow with no fear.
Read more of Joyce Johnson's poetry here.
See a complete list of all the holiday poems posted since 2000 here.
See the links here for holiday news and more.
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