A MEMBER of the FLOCK

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Written after a visit to Farm Sanctuary’s Animal Acres

Under the fervid sun
Out in the desert heat
There, on that parched patch
Of compassion off highway fourteen,
Midst the bald mountains, the Sierra Pelona
Our guide, comprehensive to a fault
Shepherded her mob.

Some of us strayed, or rather
Overstayed our time
In the shaded barns,
Finding it better spent
Amongst the animals we’d come to see –
No, not just see -to truly be with.

I’d always had a fondness for the goats,
Capra hircus,
The horned and bearded browsers
With those alien eyes,
That inquisitive nature
And playful mien,
But now I found myself amongst the sheep,
Ovis airies,
Close cousins, long skulled fellow ruminants,
Gregarious herbivores,
Icons of pastoralism,
Populating poetry and prose
And minds deprived of sleep.

Several sheep were in their house as I crept in
Calm and quiet
In the presence of these timid souls.
I approached a ewe, hoping she would know
I meant no harm
And I seemed to see on her bald face
A look of trust.

Whispering endearments, I reached out
And felt the luxuriance of her crimped coat.
I drew closer, not meaning to impose
But needing — was it communion?

What can I say that won’t sound trite or strange?
I met a sheep that day and fell in love?
I can’t pretend I came to know that gentle beast
Any more than I could come to know
Anyone that I’d just met.

But I did come to know more about myself.
I found that my capacity for compassion
Was even more commodious than I’d thought.
I came to see how right it felt to be, truly be,
With my new ovine friends,
To be gentle, quiet, kind,
Taking time, taking care . . .

There, in the sheep barn,
My left hand gently still upon her lovely neck,
My whispered words an aural caress,
I dared lean in closer
And pressed my cheek against her side.

And as I did, two other sheep drew close
And for one moment, one serene, lovely moment —
A moment that will stay with me
Through all my travails,
Through times of feeling disconnected
From my own species,
I felt I was a member of the flock.

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