Richard Pierce

Life, Poetry

Day 244

the shepherd

they live on the hills
a gasp away from the house;
singular single androgynous
indeterminate shimmering fading
in and out of the green, made
of air and fire and water and wood.
they feel, physically, the push
and pull of the sick man and his
beasts, inside and out; his demons,
his animals; and hers, too, the
woman’s, her lost identity, her
hopes, her emptiness in the storm
the man carries into each room.

they tend nature up here,
the they shepherd, all atoms of it,
the green the white the bark
the fur the skin the crop
all living things as far as their
eyes see, as far as their spirit
reaches. they land their gaze
in each room of the house, into
each soul in the house, and they hurt
with the bereaved family existing
in the valley down that slow slope.

each day they see the man stumble into
their green, pursued by the worried
animals addicted to the sense of death,
pursued by the woman’s longing gaze
and her wish that she could heal him.
they open their arms, the they shepherd,
when they are invisibly close to him,
wrap him in the spell of their crook, to
wrestle with the illness in his flesh
and his mind.

when they let him go, they let him take
their immortal youthfulness with him
although he loses it within yards,
and cower by the barren fountain
until the water returns. this is
the daily cycle.

Experimental of sorts, the end of that series of four poems, which I don’t know what to collectively name, but I will, if I ever remember I’ve written them.



Aggie still pretends to be asleep when the attendants fan out in the spacious compartment that is Business Class, rouses herself, seemingly, just to turn down the food and ask only for a glass of water, which she demolishes with relish, pulls the blanket up to her neck again, and closes her eyes. Thankfully, the man next to her respects her privacy, eats his dinner quickly and silently, and mimics her actions with the blanket, making sure his head is turned away from her. A few moments later, he is snoring, as he predicted. Aggie finds it quite comforting, her head nestled against the frame of the window through which she perceives (and knows anyway) them to be speeding towards the day which will have died again by the time they get to Washington. Eight hours would be a long time to anyone who didn’t have her ability to put her mind into neutral, to use the time of doing nothing and not sleeping to build up strength for whatever awaits her. The hours pass without pictures and memories, just an empty space, a peace, a much-needed breathing space.

An hour and a half before they’re due to touch down, with the day now racing across the other side of the planet, and the darkness outside impenetrable, Aggie sits up straight, rolls up the blanket, and puts it by her feet next to her backpack. The man next to her is still asleep, and rouses himself only when the attendants decide it’s time to give everyone a light snack and some coffee. He nods at Aggie, smiles, grey eyes under a mop of black hair, and leans back in his seat, sipping his coffee. Aggie watches the shades of blackness outside, asks for another cup of coffee, lets her tray be cleared, and waits for the plane to start its descent. The landing is easy, and the people in the plane impatient, unclicking their seatbelts while the plane is still rolling towards its final parking space, getting up as soon as the Seatbelt sign goes out, almost jostling each other to get to the exit. Aggie pulls out the phone Cassie gave her, where she’s stored Marion’s number, Robert’s, and the one of the burner phone Lilibet still has. She types just landed. what now? AJ, and sends it to Marion’s number. The message back is immediate. on way. expect a dumpy old lady in a hoodie and a tall black man with your name on a sign. the other side of immigration if they let you in. Great.

Aggie waits, waits for the man next to her to leave with the privileged crowd from this section, waits for the baying masses from behind the curtain to stampede their way to the door, too, and only grabs her backpack and gets up when the stampede has thinned to a trickle. Safety in numbers. Most of the time anyway. She walks to the exit, smiles the obligatory smile and thank you at the attendants and the flight crew, who look impatient as well now (perhaps they’re on a promise, she thinks, and thinks of Lilibet for the first time since she left), steps across onto the mechanised walkway, and starts the long and leisurely walk to immigration, reminding herself again of her new name, of the paperwork in the bag, of the need to keep herself under anyone’s over-sensitive radar.

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