Edited and introduced by Wesley McNair, Maine poet laureate.

Today Barrie Shepherd of Scarborough asks us to consider the forgotten witnesses of the Christmas scene at the holy manger.

The Silent Seers

By J. Barrie Shepherd

Of all the witnesses

around that holy manger

perhaps it was the animals

who saw best what lay ahead,

for they had paced the aching roads

slept in the wet and hungry fields

known the sharp sting of sticks

and thorns and curses

endured the constant bruise

of burdens not their own,

the tendency of men to use

and then discard rather than meet

and pay the debt of gratitude.

For them the future also held

the knacker’s rope, the flayer’s blade,

the tearing of their bodies

for the sparing of a race.

In the shadows of that stable

might it be his warmest welcome

lay within their quiet comprehending gaze?

Take Heart: A Conversation in Poetry is produced in collaboration with the Maine Writers & Publishers Alliance. Poem copyright ©2012 J.Barrie Shepherd. Reprinted from “Between Mirage and Miracle,” Wipf and Stock Press, 2002, by permission of the publisher. Questions about submitting to Take Heart may be directed to Gibson Fay-LeBlanc at [email protected] or 228-8263. “Take Heart: Poems from Maine,” an anthology collecting the first two years of this column, is now available from Down East Books.