The Loving Shepherdess By Robinson Jeffers
The little one-room schoolhousc among the redwoods
Opened its door, a dozen children ran out
And saw on the narrow road between the dense trees
A persona girl by the long light-colored hair:
The torn brown cloak that she wore might be a man’s
Or woman’s eitherwalking hastily northward
Among a huddle of sheep. Her thin young face
Seemed joyful, and lighted from inside, and formed
Too finely to be so wind-burnt. As she went forward
One or another of the trotting sheep would turn
Its head to look at her face, and one would press
Its matted shoulder against her moving thigh.
The schoolchildren stood laughing and shouting together.
‘Who’s that? ‘ ‘Clare Walker,’ they said, ‘down from the hill.
She’d fifty sheep and now she’s got eight, nine,
Ten: what have you done with all the others, Clare Walker? ‘
The joy that had lived in her face died, she yet
Went on as if she were deaf, with forward eyes
And lifted head, but the delicate lips moving.
The jeering children ran in behind her, and the sheep
Drew nervously on before, except the old ram,
That close at her side dipped his coiled horns a little
But neither looked back nor edged forward. An urchin shouted
‘You killed your daddy, why don’t you kill your sheep? ‘
And a fat girl, ‘Oh where’s your lover, Clare Walker?
He didn’t want you after all.’
The patriarch ram
That walked beside her wore a greasy brown bundle
Tied on his back with cords in the felt of wool,
And one of the little boys, running by, snatched at it
So that it fell. Clare bent to gather it fallen,
And tears dropped from her eyes. She offered no threat
With the bent staff of rosy-barked madrone-wood
That lay in her hand, but said ‘Oh please, Oh please,’
As meek as one of her ewes. An eight-year-old girl
Shrilled, ‘Whistle for the dogs, make her run like a cat,
Call your dog, Charlie Geary! ‘ But a brown-skinned
Spanish-Indian boy came forward and said,
‘You let her alone. They’ll not hurt you, Clare Walker.
Don’t cry, I’ll walk beside you.’ She thanked him, still crying.
Four of the children, who lived southward, turned back;
The rest followed more quietly.
The black-haired boy
Said gently, ‘Remember to keep in the road, Clare Walker.
There’s enough grass. The ranchers will sick their dogs on you
If you go into the pastures, because their cows
Won’t eat where the sheep have passed; but you can walk
Into the woods.’ She answered, ‘You’re kind, you’re kind.
Oh yes, I always remember.’ The small road dipped
Under the river when they’d come down the hill,
A shallow mountain river that Clare skipped over
By stone after stone, the sheep wading beside her.
The friendly boy went south to the farm on the hill, ‘good-by,
good-by,’ and Clare with her little flock
Kept northward among great trees like towers in the river- valley.
Her sheep sidled the path, snifHng
The bitter sorrel, lavender-flowering in shade, and the withered
ferns. Toward evening they found a hollow
Of autumn grass.
Clare laughed and was glad, she undid the bundle
from the ram’s back
And found in the folds a battered metal cup and a broken loaf.
She shared her bread with the sheep,
A morsel for each, and prettily laughing
Pushed down the reaching faces. ‘Piggies, eat grass. Leave me the
crust, Tiny, I can’t eat grass.
Nosie, keep off. Here Frannie, here Frannie.’ One of the ewes
came close and stood to be milked, Clare stroked
The little udders and drank when the cup filled, and filled it again
and drank, dividing her crust
With the milch ewe; the flock wandered the glade, nibbling white
grass. There was only one lamb among them,
The others had died in the spring storm.
The light in the glade
suddenly increased and changed, the hill
High eastward began to shine and be rosy-colored, and bathed
in so clear a light that up the bare hill
Each clump of yucca stood like a star, bristling sharp rays; while
westward the spires of the giant wood
Were strangely tall and intensely dark on the layered colors of
the winter sundown; their blunt points touched
The high tender blue, their heads were backed by the amber, the
Crossed flaming rose. Then Clare with the flush
Of the solemn and glad sky on her face went lightly down to
the river to wash her cup; and the flock
Fed on a moment before they looked up and missed her. The
ewe called Frannie had gone with Clare, and the others
Heard Frannie’ s hooves on the crisp oak-leaves at the edge of the
glade. They followed, bleating, and found their mistress
On the brink of the stream, in the clear gloom of the wood, and
nipped the cresses from the water. Thence all returning
Lay down together in the glade, but Clare among them
Sat combing her hair, with a gap-toothed comb brought from
the bundle. The evening deepened, the thick blonde strands
Hissed in the comb and glimmered in the brown twilight, Clare
began weeping, full of sorrow for no reason
As she had been full of happiness before. She braided her hair
and pillowed her head on the bundle; she heard
The sheep breathing about her and felt the warmth of their
bodies, through the heavy fleeces.
In the night she moaned
And bolted upright. ‘Oh come, come,
Come Fern, come Frannie, Leader and Saul and Tiny,
We have to go on,’ she whispered, sobbing with fear, and stood
With a glimmer in her hair among the sheep rising. The halved
moon had arisen clear of the hill,
And touched her hair, and the hollow, in the mist from the river,
was a lake of whiteness. Clare stood wreathed with her
And stared at the dark towers of the wood, the dream faded
away from her mind, she sighed and fondled
The frightened foreheads. ‘Lie down, lie down darlings, we
can’t escape it.’ But after that they were restless
And heard noises in the night nil dawn.
They rose in the quivering
Pale clearness before daylight, Clare milked her ewe,
The others feeding drifted across the glade
Like little clouds at sunrise wandering apart;
She lifted up the madrone-wood staff and called them.
‘Fay, Fern, Oh Frannie. Come Saul.
Leader and Tiny and Nosie, we have to go on.’
They went to the stream and then returned to the road
And very slowly went north, nibbling the margin
Bushes and grass, tracking the tender dust
With numberless prints of oblique crossings and driftings.
They came to Fogler’s place and two ruffian dogs
Flew over the fence: Clare screaming ‘Oh, Oh, Oh, Oh,’
An inarticulate wildbird cry, brandishing
The staff but never striking, stood out against them,
That dashed by her, and the packed and trembling ball
Of fleeces rolling into the wood was broken.
The sheep might have been torn there, some ewe or the lamb
Against the great foundations of the trees, but Fogler
Ran shouting over the road after his dogs
And drove them home. Clare gathered her flock, the sobbing
Throats and the tired eyes, ‘Fay, Fern, Oh Frannie,
Come Leader, come little Hornie, come Saul’; and Fogler:
‘You ought to get a good dog to help take care of them.’
He eyed curiously her thin young face,
Pale parted lips cracked by the sun and wind,
And then the thin bare ankles and broken shoes.
‘Are you Clare Walker? I heard that you’d gone away:
But you’re Clare Walker, aren’t you? ‘ ‘We had a dog,’
She said, ‘a long time ago but he went away.
There, Nosie. Poor Frannie. There. These poor things
Can find their food, but what could I keep a dog with?
But that was some years ago.’ He said, ‘Are these all?
They’re all gathered? I heard you’d thirty or forty.’
Then hastily, for he saw the long hazel eyes
Filling with tears, ‘Where are you going, Clare Walker?
Because I think it will rain in a week or two,
You can’t sleep out then.’ She answered with a little shudder,
‘Wherever I go this winter will be all right.
I’m going somewhere next April.’ Fogler stood rubbing
His short black beard, then dropped his hand to scratch
The ram’s forehead by the horns but Saul drew away.
And Fogler said: ‘You’re too young and too pretty
To wander around the country like this.
I’d ask you to come here when it rains, but my wife…
And how could I keep the sheep here? ‘ ‘Ah, no,’ she answered,
‘I couldn’t come back.’ ‘Well, wait,’ he said, ‘for a minute,
Until I go to the house. Will you wait, Clare?
I’ll tie up the dogs. I’ve got some biscuit and things…’
He returned with a sack of food, and two old shoes
A little better than Clare’s. She sat on a root;
He knelt before her, fumbling the knotted laces
Of those she had on, and she felt his hands tremble.
His wife’s shoes were too short for the slender feet. When the
Had been replaced, Fogler bent suddenly and kissed
Clare’s knee, where the coat had slipped back. He looked at her
His own burning, but in hers nor fear nor laughter,
Nor desire nor aversion showed. He said ‘good-by,’
And hurried away.
Clare travelled northward, and sometimes
Half running, more often loitering, and the sheep fed.
In the afternoon she led them into the willows,
And choosing a green pool of the shallow stream
Bathed, while the sheep bleated to her from the shoals.
They made a pleasant picture, the girl and her friends, in the
Shafted with golden light falling through the alder branches.
Her body, the scarecrow garments laid by,
Though hermit-ribbed and with boyishly flattened flanks hardly
Was smooth and flowing, glazed with bright water, the shoulders
and breasts beautiful, and moved with a rapid confidence
That contradicted her mind’s abstractions. She laughed aloud
and jetted handfuls of shining water
At the sheep on the bank; the old ram stood blinking with pleas-
ure, shaking his horns. But after a time Clare’s mood
Was changed, as if she thought happiness must end.
She shivered and moved heavily out of the stream
And wept on the shore, her hands clasping her ankles,
Her face bowed on her knees, her knotted-up coils
Of citron-colored hair loosening. The ewe
That she called Nosie approached behind her and pressed
Her chin on the wet shoulder; Clare turned then, moaning,
And drew the bony head against the soft breasts.
‘Oh what will you do,’ she whispered laughing and sobbing,
‘When all this comes to an end? ‘
She stood and stroked off
The drops of water, and dressed hastily. They went
On farther; now there was no more forest by the road,
But open fields. The river bent suddenly westward
And made a pond that shone like a red coal
Against the shore of the ocean, under the sundown
Sky, with a skeleton of sandbar
Between the pond and the sea.
When deepening twilight
Made all things gray and made trespass safe, Clare entered
The seaward fields with her flock. They had fed scantly
In the redwood forest, and here on the dead grass
The cattle had cropped all summer they could not sleep.
She led them hour after hour under the still stars.
Once they ran down to the glimmering beach to avoid
The herd and the range bull; they returned, and wandered
The low last bluff, where sparse grass labors to live in the wind-
heaped sand. Silently they pastured northward,
Gray file of shadows, between the glimmer and hushing moan
of the ocean and the dark silence of the hills.
The erect one wore a pallor of starlight woven in her hair. Be-
fore moonrise they huddled together
In a hollow cup of old dune that opened seaward, but sheltered
them from the nightwind and from morning eyes.
The bleating of sheep answered the barking of sea-lions and Clare
Dazzled in the broad dawn. The land-wind lifted the light-spun
manes of the waves, a drift of sea-lions
Swung in the surf and looked at the shore, sleek heads uplifted
and great brown eyes with a glaze of blind
Blue sea-light in them. ‘You lovely creatures,’ she whispered.
She went to the verge and felt the foam at her ankles. ‘You lovely
creatures come closer.’ The sheep followed her
And stopped in the sand with lonesome cries. Clare stood and
trembled at the simple morning of the world; there was
But hills and sea, not a tree on the shore nor a ship on the sea;
an edge of the hill kindled with gold,
And the sun rose. Then Clare took home her soul from the world
and went on. When she was wandering the flats
Of open pasture between the Sur Hill sea-face and the great
separate sea-dome rock at Point Sur,
Forgetting, as often before, that she and her flock were tres-
In cattle country: she looked and a young cowboy rode down
from the east. ‘You’ll have to get off this range.
Get out of this field,’ he said, ‘your tallow-hoofed mutton.’
‘Oh,’ she answered trembling, ‘I’m going. I got lost in the
Don’t drive them.’ ‘A woman? ‘ he said. He jerked the reins and
sat staring. ‘Where did you dropp from? ‘ She answered
With a favor-making smile, ‘From the south.’ ‘Who’s with
you? ‘ ‘Nobody.’
‘Keep going, and get behind the hill if you can
Before Nick Miles the foreman looks down this way.’
She said to the ram, ‘Oh Saul, Oh hurry. Come Leader.
Tiny and Frannie and Nosie, we have to go on.
Oh, hurry, Fern.’ They huddled bleating about her,
And she in the midst made haste; they pressed against her
And moved in silence. The young cowboy rode on the east
As hoping to hide the flock from Nick Miles his foreman,
Sidelong in the saddle, and gazed at Clare, at the twisting
Ripple of pale bright hair from her brown skin
Behind the temples. She felt that his looks were friendly,
She turned and timidly smiled. Then she could see
That he was not a man but a boy, sixteen
Or seventeen; she felt more courage. ‘What would your foreman
Do if he saw us? ‘ ‘He’d be rough. But,’ he said,
‘You’ll soon be behind the hill. Where are you going? ‘
She made no answer. ‘To Monterey? ‘ ‘Oh… to nowhere! ‘
She shivered and sought his face with her eyes. ‘To nowhere,
‘Well,’ he said sulkily, ‘where did you sleep last night?
Somewhere? ‘ She said with eagerness, ‘Ah, two miles back,
On the edge of the sand; we weren’t really in the field.’
He stared. ‘You’re a queer one. Is that old coat
All you’ve got on? ‘ ‘No, no, there’s a dress under it.
But scrubbed so often,’ she said, ‘with sand and water
Because I had no soap, it’s nothing but rags.’
‘You needn’t hurry, no one can see you now.
… My name’s Will Brighton,’ he said. ‘Well, mine is dare.’
‘Where do you live when you’re at home, Clare? ‘ ‘I haven’t
They rounded the second spur of the hill. Gray lupine clothed
the north flank, a herd of cattle stared down
From the pale slope of dead grass above the gray thicket. Rumps
high, low quarters, they were part of the world’s end sag,
The inverted arch from the Sur Hill height to the flat foreland
and up the black lava rock of Point Sur;
In the open gap the mountain sea-wall of the world foam-
footed went northward. Beyond the third spur Clare saw
A barn and a house up the wrinkled hill, oak-scrub and sycamores.
The house built of squared logs, time-blackened,
Striped with white plaster between the black logs, a tall dead
cube with a broken chimney, made her afraid;
Its indestructible crystalline shape. ‘Oh! There’s a house.
They’ll see us from there. I’ll go back…’ ‘Don’t be afraid,’
He answered smiling, ‘that place has no eyes.
There you can turn your sheep in the old corral,
Or graze them under the buckeyes until evening.
No one will come.’ She sighed, and then faintly:
‘Nobody ever lives there, you’re sure? ‘ ‘Not for eight years.
You can go in,’ he said nervously: ‘maybe
You haven’t been inside a house a good while? ‘
She looked up at his pleasant unformed young face,
It was blushing hot. ‘Oh, what’s the matter with the house? ‘
‘Nothing. Our owner bought the ranch, and the house
Stands empty, he didn’t want it. They tell me an old man
Claiming to be God… a kind of a preacher boarded there,
And the family busted up.’ She said ‘I don’t believe
Any such story.’ ‘Well, he was kind of a preacher.
They say his girl killed herself; he washed his hands
With fire and vanished.’ ‘Then she was crazy. What, spill
Her own one precious life,’ she said trembling,
‘She’d nothing but that? Ah! no!
No matter how miserable, what goes in a moment,
You know… out…’ Her head bowed, and her hand
Dug anxiously in the deep pads of wool
On the shoulder of the ram walking against her side;
When her face lifted again even the unwatchful boy
Took notice of tears.
They approached the house; the fence in
front was broken but the windows and doors were whole,
The rose that grew over the rotted porch steps was dead; yet
the sleep of the house seemed incorruptible,
It made Clare and the boy talk low. He dropped out of the
saddle and made the bridle hang down
To serve for tether. ‘Come round by the back,’ he whispered,
‘this door is locked.’ ‘What for? ‘ ‘To go in,’ he whispered.
‘Ah no, I have to stay with my sheep. Why in the world should
I go in to your dirty old house? ‘
His face now he’d dismounted was level with hers; she saw the
straw-colored hairs on his lip, and freckles,
For he’d grown pale. ‘Hell,’ he said, narrowing his eyes, hoping
to be manly and bully her: but the heart failed him,
He said sadly, ‘I hoped you’d come in.’ She breathed, ‘Oh,’ her
But whether with fear or laughter no one could tell,
And said, ‘You’ve been kind. Does nobody ever come here?
Because I’d have to leave my poor friends outdoors,
Someone might come and hurt them.’ ‘The sheep?
No one can see them. Oh, Clare, come on. Look here,’
He ran and opened a gate, ‘the corral fence
Is good as new and the grass hasn’t been touched.’
The small flock entered gladly and found green weeds
In the matted gray. Clare slowly returned. The boy
Catching her by the hand to draw her toward the house,
She saw his young strained face, and wondered. ‘Have you ever
Been, with a woman? ‘ ‘Ah,’ he said proudly, ‘yes.’
But the honesty of her gaze dissolving his confidence
He looked at the ground and said mournfully, ‘She wasn’t white.
And I think she was quite old…’ Clare in her turn
Reddened. ‘If it would make you happy,’ she said.
‘I want to leave glad memories. And you’ll not be sorry
After I’m gone? ‘
The sheep, missing their mistress,
Bleated and moved uneasily, forgetting to feed,
While Clare walked in the house. She said, ‘Oh, not yet.
Let’s look at the house. What was the man’s name
Whose daughter… he said he was God and suddenly van-
‘A man named Barclay,’ he said, ‘kind of a preacher.’
They spoke in whispers, peering about. At length Clare sighed,
And stripped off the long brown coat.
When they returned outdoors,
Blinking in the sun, the boy bent his flushed face
Toward Clare’s pale one and said, ‘Dear, you can stay here
As long as you want, but I must go back to work.’
She heard the sheep bleating, and said, ‘Good-by.
Good luck, Will Brighton.’ She hurried to her flock, while he
Mounted, but when he had ridden three strides of a canter
Clare was crying, ‘Oh help. Oh help. Oo! Oo! ‘ He returned,
And found her in the near corner of the corral
On hands and knees, her flock huddling about her,
Peering down a pit in the earth. Oak-scrub and leafless
Buckeyes made a dark screen toward the hill, and Clare
Stood up against it, her white face and light hair
Shining against it, and cried, ‘Oh, help me, they’ve fallen,
Two have fallen.’ The pit was an old well;
The hand-pump had fallen in, and the timbers
That closed the mouth had crumbled to yellow meal.
Clare lay and moaned on the brink among the dark nettles,
Will Brighton brought the braided line that hung at his saddle
And made it fast and went down.
The well-shaft was so filled up
With earth-fall and stones and rotting timbers, it was possible
for the boy and girl to hoist up the fallen
Without other contrivance than the looped rope. The one came
smiiHriiiur and sobbing, Clare cried her name,
‘Oh, Fern, Fern, Fern.’ She stood and fell, and scrambled up to
her feet, and plunged on three legs. The other
Came flaccid, it slipped in the rope and hung head downward,
Clare made no cry. When it was laid by the well-brink
A slime of half-chewed leaves fell from its mouth. The boy
climbed up. ‘While I was making your pleasure,’
Clare said, ‘this came. While I was lying there. What’s punished
is kindness.’ He touched the lifeless ewe with his foot,
Clare knelt against her and pushed him away. He said, ‘It fell the
first and its neck was broken.’ And Clare:
‘This was the one that would nudge my hands
When I was quiet, she’d come behind me and touch me, I called
her Nosie. One night we were all near frozen
And starved, I felt her friendly touches all night.’ She lifted the
head. ‘Oh, Nosie, I loved you best.
Fern’s leg is broken. We’ll all be like you in a little while.’ The
boy ran and caught Fern, and said
‘The bones are all right. A sprain I guess, a bad sprain. I’ll come
in the evening, Clare, if you’re still here.
I’m sorry.’ She sat with the head on her lap, and he rode away.
After a time she laid it on the earth.
She went and felt Fern’s foreleg and went slowly up the hill; her
small flock followed.
Fern lagged and lagged,
Dibbling the dust with the mere points of the hoof
Of the hurt foreleg, and rolling up to her shepherdess
The ache of reproachful eyes. ‘Oh, Fern, Oh, Fern,
What can I do? I’m not a man, to be able to carry you.
My father, he could have carried you.’ Tears from Clare’s eyes
Fell in the roadway; she was always either joyful or weeping.
They climbed for half the day, only a steep mile
With many rests, and lay on the Sur Hill summit.
The sun and the ocean were far down below, like fire in a bowl;
The shadow of the hills lay slanting up a thin mist
Into the eastern sky, dark immense lines
Going out of the world.
Clare slept wretchedly, for thirst
And anxious dreams and sorrow. She saw the lighthouse
Glow and flash all night under the hill;
The wind turned south, she smelled the river they had left,
Small flying clouds from the south crossed the weak stars.
In the morning Fern would not walk.
Between noon and morning
A dark-skinned man on a tall hammer-headed
Flea-bitten gray horse rode north on the hill-crest.
Clare ran to meet him. ‘Please help me. One of my sheep
Has hurt her leg and can’t walk…. Entiendes ingles? ‘
She faltered, seeing him Indian-Spanish, and the dark eyes
Gave no sign whether they understood, gazing through her with
a blue light across them
Like the sea-lions’ eyes. He answered easily in English, ‘What can
I do? ‘ in the gentle voice of his people;
And Clare: ‘I thought you might carry her down. We are very
thirsty, the feed is all dry, here is no water,
And I’ve been gathering the withered grasses to feed her.’ He
said, ‘We could tie her onto the horse.’ ‘Ah, no,
She’d be worse hurt…. She’s light and little, she was born in
the hills.’ The other sheep had followed their shepherdess
Into the road and sadly looked up, the man smiled and dis-
mounted among them. ‘Where are you going? ‘
She answered, ‘North. Oh, come and see her. Unless you carry
I don’t know what we can do.’ ‘But it’s two miles
Down to the river.’ The lame ewe, whether frightened
By the stranger and his horse, or rested at length,
Now rose and went quietly to Clare, the hurt foreleg
Limping but serving. Clare laughed with pleasure. ‘Oh, now,
We can go down by ourselves. Come Fern, come Saul,
Fay, Frannie, Leader…’ She was about to have called
The name of the one that died yesterday; her face
Changed and she walked in silence, Fern at her thigh.
The friendly stranger walked on the other side,
And his horse followed the sheep. He said: ‘I have seen
Many things, of this world and the others, but what are you? ‘
‘My name’s Clare Walker.’ ‘Well, I am Onorio Vasquez.
I meant, what are you doing? I think that I’d have seen you or
heard of you
If you live near.’ ‘I’m doing? I’m taking care of my sheep.’ She
looked at his face to be sure of kindness,
And said, ‘I’m doing like most other people; take care of those
that need me and go on till I die.
But / know when it will be; that’s the only… I’m often
afraid.’ Her look went westward to the day moon,
Faint white shot bird in her wane, the wings bent downward,
falling in the clear over the ocean cloud-bank.
‘Most people will see hundreds of moons: I shall see five.
When this one’s finished.’ Vasquez looked intently at her thin
young face, turned sideways from him, the parted
Sun-scarred lips, the high bridge of the nose, dark eyes and light
hair; she was thin, but no sign of sickness; her eyes
Met his and he looked down and said nothing. When he looked
down he remembered chiefly the smooth brown throat
And the little hollow over the notch of the breast-bone. He said
at length, carefully, ‘You needn’t be afraid.
I often,’ he murmured shyly, ‘have visions. I used to think they
taught me something, but I was a fool.
If you saw a vision, or you heard a voice from heaven, it is noth-
ing.’ She answered, ‘What I fear really’s the pain.
The rest is only a kind of strangeness.’ Her eyes were full of tears
and he said anxiously, ‘Oh, never
Let visions nor voices fool you.
They are wonderful but we see them by chance; I think they
mean something in their own country but they mean
Nothing in this; they have nothing to do with our lives and
deaths.’ She answered in so changed a voice that Vasquez
Stared; the tears were gone and her eyes were laughing. ‘Oh,
no, it was nothing,’ she said, ‘in the way of that.
Visions? My trouble is a natural thing.
But tell me about those visions.’ He muttered to himself
With a shamed face and answered, ‘Not now.’ The south wind
That drove the dust of the little troop before them
Now increased and struck hard, where the road gained
A look-out point over the fork of the canyon
And the redwood forest below. The sheep were coughing
In the whirl of wind. At this point the lame ewe
Lay down and refused to rise, ‘Oh, now, now, now,’
Clare wrung her hands, ‘we’re near the water too. We’re all so
Oh, Fern! ‘ Vasquez said sadly, ‘If she’d be quiet
Over my shoulders, but she won’t.’ He heard a hoarse voice
Cry in the canyon, and Clare softly cried answer
And ran to the brink of the road. She stood there panting
Above the pitch and hollow of the gorge, her grotesque cloak
Blown up to her shoulders, flapping like wings
About the half nakedness of the slender body.
Vasquez looked down the way of her gaze, expecting
To see some tragical thing; he saw nothing but a wide heron
Laboring thwart wind from the shore over the heads of the red-
woods. A heavy dark hawk balanced in the storm
And suddenly darted; the heron, the wings and long legs waver-
ing in terror, fell, screaming, the long throat
Twisted under the body; Clare screamed in answer. The pirate
death drove by and had missed, and circled
For a new strike, the poor frightened fisherman
Beat the air over the heads of the redwoods and labored upward.
Again and again death struck, and the heron
Fell, with the same lost cry, and escaped; but the last fall
Was into the wood, the hawk followed, both passed from sight
Under the waving spires of the wood.
Turned, striving with the gesture of a terrified child
To be quiet, her clenched fist pressed on her mouth,
Her teeth against the knuckles, and her blonde hair
Wild on the wind. ‘Oh, what can save him, can save him?
Oh, how he cried at each fall! ‘ She crouched in the wind
At the edge of the road, trembling; the ewe called Tiny
Crossed over and touched her, the others turned anxious looks
From sniffing the autumn-pinched leaves of the groundling black-
When she was quieted Vasquez said, ‘You love
All creatures alike.’ She looked at his face inquiringly
With wide candid brown eyes, either not knowing
Or not thinking. He said, ‘It is now not far
Down to the running water; we’d better stretch her
Across the saddle’ he nodded toward the lame ewe
‘You hold her by the forelegs and I by the hind ones,
She’ll not be hurt.’ Clare’s voice quieted the sheep
And Vasquez’ the indignant horse. They came down at length
To dark water under gigantic trees.
She helped Fern drink before herself drooped eagerly
Her breast against the brown stones and kissed the cold stream.
She brought from the bundle what food remained, and shared it
With Vasquez and the munching sheep. There were three apples
From Fogler’s trees, and a little jar of honey
And crumbled comb from his hives, and Clare drew a net
Of water-cress from the autumn-hushed water to freshen
The old bread and the broken biscuits. She was gay with delight
At having something to give. They sat on the bank, where
After century of drooping redwood needles had made the earth,
as if the dark trees were older
Than their own mother.
Clare answered Vasquez’ question and
said she had come from the coast mountains in the south;
She’d left her home a long time ago; and Fogler, the farmer by
the Big Sur, had given her this food
Because he was sorry his dogs had worried the sheep. But yes-
terday she was passing Point Sur, and Fern
Had fallen into a well by the house. She said nothing of the other
ewe, that had died; and Vasquez
Seemed to clench himself tight: ‘What were you doing at Point
Sur, it’s not on the road? ‘ ‘The sheep were hungry,
And I wandered off the road in the dark. It was wicked of me
to walk in the pasture, but a young cowboy
Helped me on the right way. We looked into the house.’ He
said, ‘Let no one go back there, let its mice have it.
God lived there once and tried to make peace with the people;
no peace was made.’ She stared in silence, and Vasquez:
‘After that time I bawled for death, like a calf for the cow. There
were no visions. My brothers watched me,
And held me under the hammers of food and sleep.’
He ceased; then Clare in a troubled silence
Thought he was lying, for she thought certainly that no one
Ever had desired death. But, for he looked unhappy
And said nothing, she said Will Brighton had told her
Something about a man who claimed to be God,
‘Whose daughter,’ she said, ‘died.’ Vasquez stood up
And said trembling, ‘In the ruin of San Antonio church
I saw an owl as big as one of your sheep
Sleeping above the little gilt Virgin above the altar.
That was no vision. I want to hear nothing
Of what there was at Point Sur.’ He went to his horse
That stood drooping against the stream-bank, and rode
The steep soft slope between the broad butts of trees.
But, leaving the undisturbed air of the wood
For the rough wind of the roadway, he stopped and went back.
‘It will rain,’ he said. ‘You ought to think of yourself.
The wind is digging water since we came down.
My father’s place is too far. There’s an old empty cabin
A short ways on.’ She had been crouching again
Over the stream to drink, and rose with wet lips
But answered nothing. Vasquez felt inwardly dizzy
For no reason he knew, as if a gray bird
Turned in his breast and flirted half-open wings
Like a wild pigeon bathing. He said, ‘You’ll see it
Above the creek on the right hand of the road
Only a little way north.’ He turned and rode back,
Hearing her call ‘Good-by,’ into the wind on the road.
This man was that Onorio Vasquez
Who used to live on Palo Corona mountain
With his father and his six brothers, but now they lived
Up Mill Creek Canyon beside the abandoned lime-kiln
On land that was not their own. For yearly on this coast
Taxes increase, land grows harder to hold,
Poor people must move their places. Onorio had wealth
Of visions, but those are not coinable. A power in his mind
Was more than equal to the life he was born to,
But fear, or narrowing fortune, had kept it shut
From a larger life; the power wasted itself
In making purposeless visions, himself perceived them
To have no meaning relative to any known thing: but always
They made him different from his brothers; they gave him
A kind of freedom; they were the jewels and value of his life.
So that when once, at a critical time, they failed
And were not seen for a year, he’d hungered to die.
That was nine years ago; his mind was now quieter,
But still it found all its value in visions.
Between them, he hired out his hands to the coast farms,
Or delved the garden at home.
Clare Walker, when he was gone, forgot him at once.
She drank a third draught, then she dropped off her shoes
And washed the dust from her feet. Poor Fern was now hobbling
Among the others, and they’d found vines to feed on
At the near edge of the wood, so that Clare felt
Her shepherdess mind at peace, to throw off
The coat and the rags and bathe in the slender stream,
Flattening herself to find the finger’s depth water.
The water and the air were cold now, she rubbed her body
Hastily dry with the bleached rags of her dress
And huddled the cloak about her, but hung the other
Over a branch to dry. Sadly she studied
The broken shoes and found them useless at last,
And flung them into the bushes. An hour later
She resumed the dress, she called her flock to go on
Northward. ‘Come Fern, come Frannie. Oh, Saul.
Leader and Hoinie and Tiny, we have to go on.’
The sky had blackened and the wind raised a dust
When they came up to the road from the closed quiet of the
The sun was behind the hill but not down yet. Clare passed the
lichen-plated abandoned cabin that Vasquez
Had wished her to use, because there was not a blade of pasture
about it, nothing but the shafted jealousy.
And foodless possession of the great redwoods. She saw the gray
bed of the Little Sur like a dry bone
Through its winter willows, and on the left in the sudden
Sea-opening V of the fcanyon the sun streaming through a cloud,
the lank striped ocean, and an arched film
Of sand blown from a dune at the stream’s foot. The road ahead
went over a bridge and up the bare hill
In lightning zigzags; a small black bead came down the lightning,
flashing at the turns in the strained light,
A motor-car driven fast, Clare urged her flock into the ditch by
the road, but the car turned
This side the bridge and glided down a steep driveway.
When Clare came and looked down she saw the farmhouse
Beside the creek, and a hundred bee-hives and a leafless orchard,
Crossed by the wheeling swords of the sun.
A man with a gray mustache covering his mouth
Stood by the road, Clare felt him stare at the sheep
And stare at her bare feet, though his eyes were hidden
In the dark of his face in the shadow of the turbid light.
She smiled and murmured, ‘Good evening.’ He giggled to him-
Like a half-witted person and stared at her feet
She passed, in the swirls of light and dust, the old man
Followed and called, ‘Hey: Missy: where will you sleep? ‘
‘Why, somewhere up there,’ she answered. He giggled, ‘Eh,
If I were you. Ho,’ he said joyfully,
‘If I were in your shoes, I’d look for a roof.
It’s big and bare, Serra Hill. You from the south? ‘
‘I’ve been in the rain before,’ she answered. She laid
Her hand on a matted fleece. ‘I’ve got to find them
Some feeding-place, they’re hungry, they’ve been in the hungry
Redwoods.’ He stopped and peered and giggled: ‘One’s lame,
But,’ he said chuckling, ‘you could go on all night
And never muddy your shoes. Ho, ho! Listen, Missy.
You ain’t a Mexican, I guess you’ve had bad luck.
I’ll fix you up in the hay-shed and you’ll sleep dry,
These fellows can feed all night.’ ‘The owner,’ she said,
‘Wouldn’t let me. They’d spoil the hay.’ ‘The owner.
Bless you, the poor old man’s too busy to notice.
Paying his debts. That was his sharp son
Drove in just now. They hated the old man
But now they come like turkey-buzzards to watch him die.’
‘Oh! Is he dying? ‘ ‘Why, fairly comfortable.
As well as you can expect.’ ‘I think, we’ll go on,’
She murmured faintly. ‘Just as you like, Missy.
But nobody cares whether you spoil the hay.
There’s plenty more in the barn, and all the stock
’11 soon be cleared out. I don’t work for his boys.
Ho, it’s begun already.’ Some drops were flying, and the sun
Drowned in a cloud, or had set, suddenly the light was twilight.
The old man waved his hand in the wind
Over the hives and the orchard. ‘This place,’ he giggled, ‘meant
the world to old Warfield: Hey, watch them sell.
It means a shiny new car to each of the boys.’ He shot up the
collar of his coat, and the huddling sheep
Tucked in their rumps; the rain on a burst of wind, small drops
but many. The sheep looked up at their mistress,
Who said, feeling the drift like needles on her cheek, and cold
Run down by her shoulder, ‘If nobody minds, you think, about
our lying in the hay.’ ‘Hell no, come in.
Only you’ll have to be out in the gray to-morrow, before the
sharp sons get up.’ He led her about
By the bridge, through the gapped fence, not to be seen from the
The hay-shed was well roofed, and walled southward
Against the usual drive of the rain. Clare saw in the twilight
Wealth of fodder and litter, and was glad, and the sheep
Entered and fed.
After an hour the old man
Returned, with a smell of fried grease in the gray darkness.
Clare rose to meet him, she thought he was bringing food,
But the odor was but a relic of his own supper.
‘It’s raining,’ he said; as if she could fail to hear
The hissing drift on the roof; ‘you’d be cosy now
On Serra Hill.’ He paused and seemed deeply thoughtful,
And said, ‘But still you could walk all night and never
Get your shoes wet. Ho, ho! You’re a fine girl,
How do you come to be on the road? Eh? Trouble? ‘
‘I’m going north. You’re kind,’ she said, ‘people are kind.’
‘Why, yes, I’m a kind man. Well, now, sleep cosy.’
He reached into the dark and touched her, she stood
Quietly and felt his hand. A dog was heard barking
Through the hiss of rain. He said, ‘There’s that damn’ dog.
I tied him up after I let you in,
Now he’ll be yelling all night.’ The old man stumped off
Into the rain, then Clare went back to her sheep
And burrowed in the hay amongst them.
The old man returned
A second time; Clare was asleep and she felt
The sheep lifting their heads to stare at his lantern.
‘Oh! What do you want? ‘ ‘Company, company,’ he muttered.
‘They’ve got an old hatchet-faced nurse in the house…
But he’s been dying for a month, he makes me nervous.
The boys don’t mind, but Vm nervous.’ He kicked
One of the sheep to make it rise and make room,
Clare murmured sadly, ‘Don’t hurt them.’ He sat in the hay
In heavy silence, holding the lantern on knee
As if it were a fretful baby. The fulvous glimmer
Through one of his hands showed the flesh red, and seemed
To etch the bones in it, the gnarled shafts of the fingers
And scaly lumps in the skin. Clare heard the chained dog howling,
And the rain had ceased. She reached in pitying tenderness
And touched the old man’s illuminated hand and said
‘How hard you have worked.’ ‘Akh,’ he groaned, ‘so has he.
And gets…’ He moved his hand to let the warm light
Lie on her face, so that her face and his own were planets
To the lantern sun; hers smooth except the wind-blistered lips,
pure-featured, pitying, with large dark eyes
The little sparkles of the reflected lantern had room to swim in;
his bristly and wrinkled, and the eyes
Like sparks in a bush; the sheep uneasily below the faces moved
formless, only Saul’s watchful head
With the curled horns in the halo of light. The faint and farther
rays of that sun touched falling spheres
Of water from the eaves at the open side of the shed, or lost
themselves at the other in cobwebbed corners
And the dust of space. In the darkness beyond all stars the little
river made a noise. The old man muttered,
‘I heard him choking night before last and still he goes on.
It’s a hell of a long ways to nothing…
You know the best thing to do? Tip this in the straw,’
He tilted the lantern a little, ‘end in a minute,
In a blaze and yell.’ She said, ‘No! no! ‘ and he felt
The hay trembling beside him. The unconscious motion of her
Was not inward but toward the sheep. He observed
Nothing of that, but giggled to himself to feel
The hay trembling beside him. He dipped his hand
And caught her bare foot; clutching it with his fingers
He scratched the sole with his thumb, but Clare sat quiet
In pale terror of tipping the lantern. The old man
Groaned and stood up. ‘You wouldn’t sit like a stone
If I were twenty years younger. Oh, damn you,’ he said,
‘You think we get old? I’m the same fresh flame of youth still,
Stuck in an old wrinkled filthy rawhide
That soon’ll rot and lie choking.’ She stammered, ‘Ah, no, no,
You oughtn’t to think so. You’re well and strong. Or maybe
At last it’ll come suddenly or while you sleep,
Never a pain.’ He swung up the lantern
Before his hairy and age-deformed face. ‘Look at me. Pfah!
And still it’s April inside.’* He turned to go out,
Clare whispered, ‘Oh! Wait.’ She stood wringing her hands,
Warm light and darkness in waves flushing and veiling
Her perplexed face, the lantern in the old man’s fist
Swinging beyond his body. ‘Oh, how can I tell? ‘
She said trembling. ‘You see: I’ll never come back:
If anything I could do would give you some pleasure;
And you wouldn’t be sorry after I’m gone.’ He turned,
Stamping his feet. ‘Heh? ‘ He held up the lantern
And stared at her face and giggled. She heard the sheep
Nestling behind her and saw the old man’s mouth
Open to speak, a black hole under the grizzled thatch,
And close again on round silence. ‘I’d like to make you
Happier,’ she faltered. ‘Heh? ‘ He seemed to be trembling
Even more than Clare had trembled; he said at length,
‘Was you in earnest? ‘ ‘I had a great trouble,
So that now nothing seems hard…
That a shell broke and truly I love all people.
I’ll… it’s a little thing… my time is short.’
He stood giggling and fidgeting. ‘Heh, heh? You be good.
I’ve got to get my sleep. I was just making the rounds.
He makes me nervous, that old man. It’s his stomach
Won’t hold nothing. You wouldn’t play tricks to-night
And the old man puking his last? Now, you lie down.
Sleep cosy,’ he said. The lantern went slowly winking away,
And she was left among the warm sheep, and thoughts
Of death, and to hear the stream; and again the wind
Raved in the dark.
She dreamed that a two-legged whiff of flame
Rose up from the house gable-peak crying, ‘Oh! Oh! ‘
And doubled in the middle and fled away on the wind
Like music above the bee-hives.
At dawn a fresh burst of rain
Delayed her, and two of the sheep were coughing. She thought
that no unfriendly person would come in the rain,
And hoped the old man might think to bring her some food, she
was very hungry. The house-dog that all night long
Had yapped his chain’s length, suddenly ran into the shed, then
Clare leaped up in fear for the sheep, but this
Was a friendly dog, loving to fondle and be fondled, he shook his
sides like a mill-wheel and remained amongst them.
The rain paused and returned, the sheep fed so contentedly
Clare let them rest all morning in the happy shelter, she dulled her
own hunger with sleep. About noon
She lifted her long staff from the hay and stood up. ‘Come Saul,
come little Hornie,
Fay, Fern and Frannie and Leader, we have to go on.
Tiny, Tiny, get up. Butt and Ben, come on’:
These were the two old wethers: and she bade the dog
‘Good-by, good-by.’ He followed however; but at length
Turned back from the crooked road up the open hill
When cold rain fell. Clare was glad of that, yet she wished
She’d had something to give him.
She gained the blasty hill-top,
The unhappy sheep huddling against her thighs,
And so went northward barefoot in the gray rain,
Abstractedly, like a sleepwalker on the ridge
Of his inner necessity, or like
Some random immortal wish of the solitary hills.
If you had seen her you’d have thought that she always
Walked north in the rain on the ridge with the sheep about her.
Yet sometimes in the need of a little pleasure
To star the gray, she’d stop in the road and kiss
One of the wet foreheads: but then run quickly
A few steps on, as if loitering were dangerous,
You’d have pitied her to see her.
Over Mescal Creek
High on the hill, a brook in a rocky gulch, with no canyon,
Light-headed hunger and cold and the loneliness unlocked
Her troubled mind, she talked and sang as she went. ‘I can’t eat
the cold cress, but if there were acorns,
Bitter acorns. Ai chinita que si,
Ai que tu dami tu amor. Why did you
Have to go dry at the pinch, Frannie? Poor thing, no matter.
Que venga con migo chinita
A donde vivo yo.
I gave them all my bread, the poor shipwrecked people, and they
wanted more.’ She trembled and said, ‘They’re cruel,
But they were hungry. They’ll never catch us I think.
Oh, hurry, hurry.’ With songs learned from the shepherd she
came to the fall of the road into Mill Creek Canyon.
Two of the sheep were sick and coughing, and Clare looked
down. Flying bodies of fog, an unending fleet
Of formless gray ships in a file fled down the great canyon
Tearing their keels over the redwoods; Clare watched them and
sang, ‘Oh, golondrina, oh, darting swallow,’
And heard the ocean like the blood in her ears. The west-covered
sun stared a wan light up-canyon
Against the cataract of little clouds.
The two coughing sheep
Brought her to a stand; then she opened their mouths and found
Their throats full of barbed seeds from the bad hay
Greedily eaten; and the gums about their teeth
Were quilled with the wicked spikes; which drawn, thin blood
Dripped from the jaw. The folds of the throat her fingers
Could not reach nor relieve; thereafter, when they coughed,
Clare shook with pain. Her pity poisoned her strength.
Numbed feet and hands and the face
Turbid with fever:
You love, and that is no unhappy fate.
Not one person but all, does it warm your winter?
Walking with numbed and cut feet
Along the last ridge of migration
On the last coast above the not-to-be-colonized
Ocean, across the streams of the people
Drawing a faint pilgrimage
As if you were drawing a line at the end of the world
Under the columns of ancestral figures:
So many generations in Asia,
So many in Europe, so many in America:
To sum the whole. Poor Clare Walker, she already
Imagines what sum she will cast in April.
She came by the farmhouse
At Mill Creek, then she wavered in the road and went to the door >
Leaving her sheep in the road; the day was draining
Toward twilight. Clare began to go around the house,
Then stopped and returned and knocked faintly at the door.
No answer; but when she was turning back to the road
The door was opened, by a pale slight young man
With no more chin than a bird, and Mongol-slanted
Eyes; he peered out, saying, ‘What do you want? ‘ Clare stood
Wringing the rain from her fingers. ‘Oh, oh,’ she stammered,
‘I don’t know what. I have some sheep with me.
I don’t know where we can stay.’ He stood in the door
And looked afraid. The sheep came stringing down
Through the gate Clare had left open. A gray-eyed man
With a white beard pushed by the boy and said
‘What does she want? What, are you hungry? Take out your
We can’t have sheep in the yard.’ Clare ran to the gate,
‘Come Leader, come Saul.’ The old man returned indoors,
Saying, ‘Wait outside, I’ll get you some bread.’ Clare waited,
Leaning against the gate, it seemed a long while;
The old man came back with changed eyes and changed voice:
‘We can’t do anything for you. There isn’t any bread.
Move on from here.’ She said through her chattering teeth,
‘Come Saul, come Leader, come Frannie. We have to go on.
Poor Fern, come on.’ They drifted across the Mill Creek bridge
And up the road in the twilight. ‘The ground-squirrels,’ she said,
‘hide in their holes
All winter long, and the birds have perches but we have no place.’
They tried to huddle in the heart of a bush
Under a redwood, Clare crouched with the sheep about her, her
thighs against her belly, her face on her knees,
Not sleeping, but in a twilight consciousness, while the night
darkened. In an hour she thought she must move or die.
‘Ah little Hornie,’ she said, feeling with shrivelled fingers the
sprouts of the horns in the small arched forehead,
‘Come Fern: are you there, Leader? Come Saul, come Nosie…
Ah, no, I was dreaming. Oh, dear,’ she whispered, ‘we’re very
Miserable now.’ She crept out of the bush and the sheep fol-
lowed; she couldn’t count them, she heard them
Plunge in the bush and heard them coughing behind her. They
came on the road
In the gray dark; there, though she’d meant to go north
She went back toward the farmhouse. Crossing the bridge
She smelled oak-smoke and thought of warmth. Grown reckless
Clare entered the farmhouse yard with her fleeced following,
But not daring enough to summon the door
Peered in a window. What she saw within
Mixed with her fever seemed fantastic and dreadful. It was
The weak-faced youth, the bearded old man, and two old women
Idle around a lamp on a table. They sat on their chairs in the
warmth and streaming light and nothing
Moved their faces. But Clare felt dizzy at heart, she thought they
were waiting for death: how could they sit
And not run and not cry? Perhaps they were dead already? Then,
the old man’s head
Turned, and the youth’s fingers drummed on his chair.
One of the blank old women was sewing and the other
Frowned and breathed. She lifted and spoke to white-beard, then
the first old woman
Flashed eyes like rusty knives and sheathed them again
And sewed the cloth; they grew terribly quiet;
Only the white beard quivered. The young man stood up
And moved his mouth for a good while but no one
Of those in the room regarded him. He sighed and saw
Clare’s face at the window. She leaped backward; the lamplight
Had fed her eyes with blindness toward the gray night,
She ran in a panic about the barren garden,
Unable to find the gate; the sheep catching her fear
Huddled and plunged, pricking the empty wet earth with num-
berless hoof-prints. But no one came out pursuing them,
The doors were not opened, the house was quiet. Clare found
And stood by it, whispering, ‘Dear Tiny. Ah, Fern, that’s you.
Come Saul,’ she fumbled each head as it passed the gate-post,
To count the flock.
But all had not passed, a man on a horse
Came plodding the puddled road. Clare thought the world
Was all friendly except in that house, and she ran
To the road’s crown. ‘Oh, Oh,’ she called; and Onorio
Vasquez answered, ‘I rode early in the morning
To find you and couldn’t find you. I’ve been north and south.
I thought I could find the track of the sheep.’ She answered
Through chattering teeth, ‘I thought I could stand the rain.
I’m sick and the sheep are sick.’ He said gravely
‘There’s hardly a man on the coast wouldn’t have helped you
Except in that house. There, I think they need help.
Well, come and we’ll live the night.’ ‘How far? ‘ she sighed
Faintly, and he said ‘Our place is away up-canyon,
You’ll find it stiff traveling by daylight even.
To-night’s a camp.’
He led her to the bridge, and there
Found dry sticks up the bank, leavings of an old flood, under
the spring of the timbers,
And made a fire against the creekside under the road for a roof.
He stripped her of the dripping cloak
And clothed her in his, the oil-skin had kept it dry, and spread her
the blanket from under his saddle to lie on.
The bridge with the tarred road-bed on it was a roof
Over their heads; the sheep, when Clare commanded them, lay
down like dogs by the fire. The horse was tethered
To a clump of willow in the night outside.
When her feet and her
hands began to be warm he offered her food,
She ate three ravenous mouthfuls and ran from the fire and
vomited. He heard her gasping in the night thicket
And a new rain. He went after while and dragged her
Back to the frugal fire and shelter of the bridge.
She lay and looked up at the great black timbers, the flapping fire-
And draggled cobwebs heavy with dirt and water;
While Vasquez watched the artery in the lit edge
Of her lean throat jiggle with its jet of blood
Like a slack harp-string plucked: a toneless trembling:
It made him grieve.
After a time she exclaimed
‘My sheep. My sheep. Count them.’ ‘What/’ he said, ‘they all
Are here beside you.’ ‘I never dreamed,’ she answered,
‘That any were lost, Oh no! But my sight swam
When I looked at them in the bad light.’ He looked
And said ‘Are there not… ten? ‘ ‘No, nine,’ she answered.
‘Nosie has died. Count them and tell me the truth.’
He stood, bowing down his head under the timbers,
And counted seven, then hastily the first two
A second time, and said ‘Nine.’ ‘I’m glad of that,’
She sighed, and was quiet, but her quill fingers working
The border of the saddle blanket. He hoped she would soon
The horse tethered outside the firelight
Snorted, and the sheep lifted their heads, a spot of white
Came down the dark slope. Vasquez laid his brown palm
Over Clare’s wrists, ‘Lie still and rest. The old fellow from the
house is coming.
Sleep if you can, I’ll talk to him.’ ‘Is there a dog? ‘ she whispered
trembling. ‘No, no, the old man is alone.’
Who peered under the heavy stringer of the bridge, his beard
shone in the firelight. ‘Here,’ he shouted, ‘Hey!
Burn the road, would you? You want to make people stay home
And suck the sour bones in their own houses? Come out of that
hole.’ But Vasquez: ‘Now, easy, old neighbor. She wanted
Fire and a roof, she’s found what you wouldn’t give.’ ‘By God,
and a man to sleep with,’ he said, ‘that’s lucky,
But the bridge, the bridge.’ ‘Don’t trouble, I’m watching the
fire. Fire’s tame, this weather.’ The old man stood twitching
And heard the sheep coughing in their cave
Under the road. He squinted toward Clare, and muttered at
length meekly, ‘Let me stay a few minutes.
To sit by the little road-fire of freedom. My wife and my sister
have hated each other for thirty years,
And I between them. It makes the air of the house. I sometimes
think I can see it boil up like smoke
When I look back at the house from the hill above.’ Vasquez said
‘I have often watched that.’ He answered ‘You haven’t lived in
it. They sit in the house and feed on their own poison
And live forever. I am now too feeble with age to escape.’ Clare
Walker lifted her head, and faintly:
‘Oh stay,’ she said, ‘I wish I could gather all that are unhappy
Before I die. But why do they hate each other? ‘
‘Their nature,’ he answered, ‘old women.’ She sighed and lay
‘I shan’t grow old.’ ‘Young fellow,’ the old man said wearily
To Vasquez, ‘they all make that promise, they never keep it.
Life glides by and the bright loving creatures
Eat us in the evening. I’d have given this girl bread
And meat, but my hawks were watching me.’ He’d found a stone
On the edge of the creek, the other side of the fire, and squatted
there, his two fists
Closing his eyes, the beard shimmering between the bent wrists.
His voice being silent they heard the fire
Burst the tough bark of a wet branch; the wind turned north,
then a gust of hail spattered in the willows
And checked at once, the air became suddenly cold. The old man
lifted his face: ‘Ah can’t you talk?
I thought you’d be gay or I’d not have stayed here, you too’ve
grown old? I wish that a Power went through the world
And killed people at thirty when the ashes crust them. You,
cowboy, die, your joints will begin to crackle,
You’ve had the best. Young bank-clerk, you’ve had the best,
grow fat and sorry and more dollars? Here farmer, die,
You’ve spent the money: will you bleed the mortgage
Fifty years more? You, cunning pussy of the world, youVe had
the fun and the kissing, skip the diseases.
Oh you, you’re an honest wife and you’ve made a baby: why
should you watch him
Grow up and spoil, and dull like cut lead? I see, my dear, you’ll
never be filled till you grow poisonous,
With eyes like rusty knives under the gray eyebrows. God bless
you, die.’ He had risen from the stone, and trampled,
Each condemnation, some rosy coal fallen out at the fire’s edge
Under his foot as if it had been a life. ‘Sharp at thirty,’ he said.
Clare vaguely moaned
And turned her face to the outer darkness, then Vasquez,
Misunderstanding her pain, thinking it stemmed
From the old man’s folly: ‘Don’t mind him, he’s not in earnest.
These nothing- wishers of life are never in earnest;
Make mouths to scare you: if they meant it they’d do it
And not be alive to make mouths.’ She made no answer,
But lay and listened to her own rustling pulse-beat,
Her knees drawn up to her breast. White-beard knelt down and
mended the fire,
And brushed his knees. ‘There’s another law that I’d make: to
burn the houses. Turn out the people on the roads,
And neither homes nor old women we’d be well off. All young,
all gay, all moving, free larks and foolery
By gipsy fires.’ His voice fell sad: ‘It’s bitter to be a reformer:
with two commandments
I’d polish the world a-shining, make the sun ashamed.’
Clare Walker stood up, then suddenly sought the dark night
To hide herself in the bushes; her bowels were loosened
With cold and fever. Vasquez half rose to follow her,
And he understood, and stayed by the fire. Then white-beard
Winking and nodding whispered: ‘Is she a good piece?
Hey, is she sick? I have to protect my son.
Where in hell did she get the sheep? ‘ Vasquez said fiercely,
‘You’d better get home, your wife’ll be watching for you.
This girl is sick and half starved, I was unwilling
To let her die in the road.’ The old man stood up
As pricked with a pin at the thought of home. ‘What? We’re
He said, lifting his feet in an anxious dance
About the low fire: ‘but it’s devilish hard
To be the earthly jewel of two jealous women.’
‘Look,’ Vasquez said, ‘it seems to me that your house is afire.
I see rolls of tall smoke…’ ‘By God,’ he answered,
‘I wish it were,’ he trotted up to the road
While a new drift of hail hissed in the willows,
Softening to rain.
When he was gone, Vasquez
Repaired the fire, and called ‘Clare! Come in to shelter.
Clare, come! The rain is ilm^n’oiio for you. The old fool’s gone
He stumbled in the dark along the strand of the creek,
Calling ‘Clare, Clare! ‘ then looking backward he saw
The huddle of firelit fleeces moving and rising,
And said ‘The sheep are scattering away to find you.
You ought to call them.’ She came then, and stood by the fire.
He heard the bleating cease, and looked back to see her
Quieting her friends, wringing the rain from her hair,
The fire had leaped up to a blaze. Vasquez returned
Under the bridge, then Clare with her lips flushed
And eyes brilliant with fever: ‘That poor old man, has he gone?
I’m sorry if he’s gone.
My father was old, but after he’d plowed the hilltop I’ve seen
The furrows at a dead run, sowing the grain with both hands,
while he controlled the colt with his knees.
The time it fell at the furrow’s end
In the fat clay, he was up first and laughing. He was kind and
cruel.’ ‘Your father? ‘ he said. She answered
‘I can’t remember my mother, she died to bear me, as I… We
kept her picture, she looked like me,
And often my father said I was like her. Oh what’s become of the
poor old man, has he gone home?
Here he was happy.’ ‘Yes, had to go home,’ he answered. ‘But
you must sleep. I’ll leave you alone if you like,
You promise to stay by the fire and sleep.’ ‘Oh I couldn’t, truly.
My mind’s throwing all its wrecks on the shore
And I can’t sleep. That was a shipwreck that drove us wander-
ing. I remember all things. Your name’s Onorio Vasquez:
I wish you had been my brother.’ He smiled and touched her
cold hand. ‘For then,’ she said, ‘we could talk
Old troubles asleep: I haven’t thought, thought,
For a long while, to-night I can’t stop my thoughts. But we all
must die? ‘ ‘Spread out your hands to the fire,
Warm yourself, Clare.’ ‘No, no,’ she answered, her teeth chat-
tering, ‘I’m hot.
My throat aches, yet you see I don’t cough, it was Frannie cough-
ing. It was almost as if I killed my father,
To swear to the lies I told after he was killed, all to save Charlie.
Do you think he’d care, after…
He was surely dead? You don’t believe we have spirits? Nobody
believes we have spirits.’ He began to answer,
And changed his words for caution. ‘Clare: all you are saying
Is hidden from me. It’s like the visions I have,
That go from unknown to unknown.’ He said proudly,
‘I’ve watched, the whole night of a full moon, an army of
Come out of the ocean, plunging on Sovranes reef
In wide splendors of silver water,
And swim with their broad hooves between the reef and the
shore and go up
Over the mountain I never knew why.
What you are saying is like that.’ ‘Oh, I’ll tell you…’ ‘To-
He pleaded, remembering she’d eaten nothing and seeing
The pulse like a plucked harp-string jiggle in her throat;
He felt like a pain of his own the frail reserves of her body
Burn unreplenished. ‘Oh, but I’ll tell you: so then
You’ll know me, as if we’d been born in the same house,
You’ll tell me not to be afraid: maybe I’ll sleep
At the turn of night. Onorio that’s really your name?
How stately a name you have lie down beside me.
I am now so changed: every one’s lovely in my eyes
Whether he’s brown or white or that poor old man:
In those days nobody but Charlie Maurice
Seemed very dear, as if I’d been blind to all the others.
He lived on the next hill, two miles across a deep valley, and then
it was five to the next neighbor
At Vicente Springs; people are so few there. We lived a long way
south, where the hills fall straight to the sea,
And higher than these. He lived with his people. We used to meet
near a madrone-tree, Charlie would kiss me
And put his hands on my breasts under my clothes. It was quite
long before we learned the sweet way
That brings much joy to most living creatures, but brought us
misery at last.
‘My father,’ she said,
‘Had lived there for thirty years, but after he sold his cattle
And pastured sheep, to make more money, the neighbors
Were never our friends. Oh, they all feared my father;
Sometimes they threatened our shepherd, a Spanish man
Who looked like you, but was always laughing. He’d laugh
And say ‘Guarda a Walker! ‘ so then they’d leave him.
But we lived lonely.
‘One morning of great white clouds gliding
from the sea,
When I was with Charlie in the hollow near the madrones, I felt
a pleasure like a sweet fire: for all
My joy before had been in his pleasure: but this was my own, it
frightened me.’ She stopped speaking, for Vasquez
Stood up and left her: he went and sat by the fire. Then Clare:
‘Why do you leave me, Onorio? Are you angry now? ‘
‘I am afraid,’ he answered, ‘of this love.
My visions are the life of my life: if I let the pitcher
Break on the rock and the sun kill the stars,
Life would be emptier than death.’ Her mind went its own way,
Not understanding so strange a fear: ‘The clouds were as bright
as stars and I could feel them,’ she said,
‘Through the shut lids of my eyes while the sweet fire
Poured through my body: I knew that some dreadful pain would
pay for such joy. I never slept after that
But dreamed of a laughing child and wakened with running tears.
After I had trembled for days and nights
I asked Tia Livia that was our shepherd’s cousin, she helped me
keep house what sign tells women
When they have conceived: she told me the moon then ceases
To rule our blood. I counted the days then,
Not dreaming that Tia Livia would spy and talk.
Was that not strange? I think that she told the shepherd too,
And the shepherd had warned my lover: for Charlie failed
Our meeting time, but my father was there with a gray face.
In silence, he didn’t accuse me, we went home together.
‘I met my lover in another place. ‘Oh Charlie,
Why do you wear a revolver? * He said the mountain
Was full of rattlers, ‘We’ve killed twenty in a week.
There never have been so many, step carefully sweetheart.’
Sweetheart he called me: you’re listening Onorio?
‘Step carefully by the loose stones.’ We were too frightened that
To play together the lovely way we had learned.
‘The next time that I saw him, he and my father
Met on a bare hilltop against a gray cloud.
I saw him turn back, but then I saw that he was ashamed
To seem afraid of a man on the ridge of earth,
With the hills and the ocean under his feet: and my father called
him. What was that moan? ‘ She stopped, and Vasquez
Heard it far off, and heard the sap of a stick whistle in the fire.
‘Nothing,’ he said, ‘low thunder
Far out the ocean, or the surf in the creek-mouth.’ ‘I was run-
ning up the steep slope to reach them, the breath in my heart
Like saw-grass cut me, I had no power to cry out, the stones and
the broken stubble flaked under my feet
So that I seemed running in one place, unable to go up. It was not
because he hated my father,
But he was so frightened. They stood as if they were talking, a
noise of smoke
Blew from between them, my father turned then and walked
Slowly along the cloud and sat on the hilltop
As if he were tired.
I said after a time, without thinking,
‘Go home, Charlie. I’ll say that he killed himself.
And give me the revolver, I’ll say it was his.’
So Charlie did.
But when the men came up from Salinas I told my lie
So badly that they believed I was the murderer.
I smelled the jail a long while. I saw the day moon
Down the long street the morning I was taken to court,
As weary-looking and stained as if it were something of mine.
I remembered then, that since I came there my blood
Had never been moved when the moon filled: what Livia’d told
So then I told them my father took his own life
Because the sheep had a sickness and I was pregnant.
The shepherd and Livia swore that they saw him do it.
I’d have been let home:
But the fever I’d caught gathered to a bursting pain,
I had to be carried from the courthouse to the hospital
And for a time knew nothing.
When I began to see with my eyes again
The doctor said: ‘The influenza that takes
Many lives has saved yours, you’ll not have a child.
Listen/ he said, ‘my girl, if you’re wise.
Your miscarriage is your luck. Your pelvis the bones down there
Are so deformed that it’s not possible for you
To bear a living baby: no life can pass there:
And yours would be lost. You’d better remember,
And try not to be reckless.’ I remember so well, Onorio.
I have good reason to remember. You never could guess
What a good reason.
My little king was dead
And I was too weak to care. I have a new king.
‘When I got home,’ she said patiently,
‘Everybody believed that I was a murderer;
And Charlie was gone. They left me so much alone
That often I myself believed it. I’d lead the sheep to that hill,
There were fifty left out of three hundred,
And pray for pardon.’
Sleep and her fever confused her brain,
One heard phrases in the running babble, across a new burst of
hail. ‘Forgive me, father, for I didn’t
Know what I was doing.’ And, ‘Why have you forsaken me,
father? ‘ Her mind was living again the bare south hilltop
And the bitter penitence among the sheep. ‘The two men that
I loved and the baby that I never saw,
AH taken away.’
Then Vasquez was calling her name to break
the black memories; she turned on her side, the flame-light
Leaped, and he saw her face puckering with puzzled wonder. ‘Not
all alone? But how can that be? ‘
She sighed and said, ‘Oh Leader, don’t stray for a while. Dear
Saul: can you keep them here on the hill around me
Without my watching? No one else helps me. I’ll lie down here
on the little grass in the windy sun
And think whether I can live. I have you, dear stragglers.
Thoughts come and go back as lightly as deer on the hill,
But as hard to catch… Not all alone. Oh.
Not alone at all.
Indeed it is even stranger than I thought.’
She laughed and sat up.
‘Oh sweet warm sun…
Are you there, Onorio? But where’s the poor old man
Who seemed to be so unhappy? I wish he hadn’t gone home,
For now I remember what I ought to tell him. I’m sadly changed
Since that trouble and sickness, and though I’m happy
I hardly ever remember in the nick o’ time
What ought to be said. You must tell him
That all our pain comes from restraint of love.’
The hail had suddenly hushed, and all her words
Were clear but hurried. ‘I learned it easily, Onorio,
And never have thought about it again till now. The only
Not to’ve known always. The beetle beside my hand in the grass
and the little brown bird tilted on a stone,
The short sad grass, burnt on the gable of the world with near
sun and all winds: there was nothing there that I didn’t
Love with my heart, yes the hill though drunk with dear blood:
I looked far over the valley at the patch of oaks
At the head of a field, where Charlie’s people had lived (they had
moved away) and loved them, although they’d been
Always unfriendly I never thought of it.’ Then Vasquez, for the
first time forgetting the person a moment
To regard the idea: ‘You were cut off from the natural objects
of love, you turned toward others.’ ‘Ah,’ she answered
Eagerly, ‘I’d always been turned to all others,
And tired my poor strength confining the joy to few. But now
I’d no more reason to confine it, I’d nothing
Left to lose nor keep back. Has the poor old man gone?
He seemed to be truly unhappy.
Wasn’t he afraid we’d burn the bridge; we ought surely
To have drowned our fire. I was sick, or I’d have done…
But old men are so strange, to want and not want,
And then be angry.’
‘He has gone,’ he answered.
‘Now, Clare, if you could eat something, then sleep,
To fill the cup for to-morrow.’
‘I have to tell you the rest. Why did he go?
Was he angry at me? Oh, I feel better, Onorio,
But never more open-eyed.
‘There was one of those great owly hawks
That soar for hours, turning and turning below me along the
bottom of the slope: I so loved it
I thought if it were hungry I’d give it my hand for meat.
‘Then winter came.
Then about Christmas time (because I’d counted the months and
remembered Christmas) storm followed storm
Like frightened horses tethered to a tree, around and around.
Three men came in the door without knocking,
Wherever they moved, water and black oil ran down. There’d
been a shipwreck. I gave them the house, then one of them
Found the axe and began chopping firewood, another went back
across wild rain to the fall of the hill
And shouted. He was so big, like a barrel walking, I ran in his
And saw the great, black, masted thing almost on shore, lying on
its side in the shadow of the hill,
And the flying steam of a fire they’d built on the beach. All that
morning the people came up like ants,
Poor souls they were all so tired and cold, some hurt and some
crying. I’d only,’ she said, ‘a few handfuls of flour
Left in the house.’ She trembled and lay down. ‘I can’t remem-
ber any more.’
Vasquez made up the fire,
And went and drew up the blanket over Clare’s shoulder.
He found her shuddering. ‘Now sleep. Now rest.’ She answered:
‘They killed a sheep. They were hungry.
I’d grown to love so much the flock that was left.
Our shepherd, I think, had taken them away mostly
While I was kept in Salinas.
I heard her crying when they threw her down, she thought I
could save her.
Her soft white throat.
‘That night I crept out in the thin rain at moonrise
And led them so far away, all that were left,
The house and the barn might hold a hundred hungry mouths
To hunt us all night and day and could never find us.
We hid in oak-woods. There was nothing to eat,
And never any dry place. We walked in the gray rain in the flow-
ing gorges of canyons that no one
But the hawks have seen, and climbed wet stone and saw the
storms racing below us, but still the thin rain
Sifted through the air as if it fell from the stars. I was then much
Than ever since then.
‘A man caught me at last, when I was too
weak to run, and conquered my fear.
He was kind, he promised me not to hurt the poor flock,
But the half of them had been lost, I never could remember how.
He lived alone; I was sick in his cabin
For many days, dreaming that a monkey nursed me: he looked
so funny, he’d a frill of red hair
All around his face.
‘When I grew better, he wanted to do like
Charlie. I knew what the doctor had said,
But I was ashamed to speak of death: I was often ashamed in
those days: he’d been so kind. Yet terror
Would come and cover my head like a cold wave.
I watched the moon, but at the full moon my fear
Flowed quietly away in the night.
‘The spring and summer were full of pleasure and happiness.
Fd no more fear of my friend, but we met seldom. I went in
From mountain to mountain, wherever good pasture grew,
Watching the creeks grow quiet and color themselves
With cool green moss, and the green hills turn white.
The people at the few farms all knew me, and now
Their minds changed; they were kind. All the deer knew me;
They’d walk in my flock.
‘In the midst of summer,
When the moon filled my blood failed to be moved,
The life that will make death began in my body.
I’d seen that moon when it was little as a chip
Over my left shoulder, from Palos ridge
By a purple cloud.
‘Oh, not till April,’ she said.
‘All’s quiet now, the bitterness is past, I have made peace
With death except in my dreams, those can’t be ruled. But then,
when I first
Began to believe and knew it had happened… I felt badly.
I went back to my father’s house,
Much was broken and chopped down, but I found
Little things that I’d loved when I was a child, hidden in corners.
When I was drunk with crying
We hurried away. The lambs never seemed able to live, the
mothers were glad to give me their milk,
We hid in the secret hills till it seemed desolate to die there.
Tell me, Onorio,
What month is this? ‘
He answered, ‘Clare, Clare, fear nothing.
Death is as far away from you as from any one.
There was a girl (I’ve heard my brothers talking:
The road-overseer’s daughter) was four or five months along
And went to a doctor: she had no trouble:
She’s like a virgin again.’ dare struck the earth with her hands
And raised her body, she stared through the red of the fire
With brilliant confused eyes. ‘Your face was like a devil’s in the
But only because you don’t understand. Why, Tia Livia herself
… you are too innocent, Onorio,
Has done so… but women often have small round stones
Instead of hearts.’ ‘But,’ he answered, ‘if you’re not able to
bear it. Not even a priest would bid you die
For a child that couldn’t be born alive. You’ve lived too much
alone, bodiless fears have become
Giants in secret. I too am not able to think clearly tonight, in
the stinging drift of the fire
And the strange place, to-morrow I’ll tell you plainly. My mind
As I have sometimes felt it before the clouds of the world
Were opened: but I know: for disease to refuse cure
Is self-murder, not virtue.’ She squatted upright,
Wrapping the coat about her shoulders and knees,
And said, ‘Have you never seen in your visions
The golden country that our souls came from,
Before we looked at the moon and stars and knew
They are not perfect? We came from a purer peace
In a more perfect heaven; where there was nothing
But calm delight, no cold, no sickness, no sharp hail,
The haven of neither hunger nor sorrow,
But all-enfolding love and unchangeable joy
Near the heart of life.’ Vasquez turned from the fire
And stared at her lit face. ‘How did you learn
This wonder? It is true.’ ‘I remembered it,’
She answered, ‘when I was in trouble.’ ‘This is the bitter-sweet
He said, ‘that makes the breast of the earth bitter
After we are born and the dear sun ridiculous. We shall return
there, we homesick.’
‘No,’ she answered. ‘The place was my mother’s body before
I was born. You may remember it a little but I’ve
Remembered plainly: and the wailing pain of entering this air.
I’ve thought and thought and remembered. I found
A cave in a high cliff of white stone, when I was hiding from
people: it was there I had the first memory.
There I’d have stayed in the safe darkness forever; the sheep
were hungry and strayed out, so I couldn’t stay.
I remembered again when I went home to our house and the
door hung crazy
On a snapped hinge. You don’t believe me, Onorio,
But after while you’ll remember plainly, if some long trouble
Makes you want peace; or being handled has broken your shame.
I have no shame now.’ He answered nothing
Because she seemed to speak from a frantic mind.
After a moment, ‘No matter,’ she said. ‘When I was in my worst
I knew that the child was feeding on peace and happiness. I had
happiness here in my body. It is not mine,
But I am its world and the sky around it, its loving God. It is
having the prime and perfect of life,
The nine months that are better than the ninety years. I’d not
steal one of its days to save my life.
I am like its God, how could I betray it? It has not moved yet
But feels its blessedness in its quietness; but soon I shall feel it
move, Tia Livia said it will nestle
Down the warm nest and flutter like a winged creature. It shook
her body, she said.’ But Vasquez, loathing
To hear these things, labored with the sick fire
In the steam of the wet wood, not listening, then Clare
Sighed and lay down. He heard her in a moment
Miserably sobbing, he went and touched her. ‘What is it?
Clare? Clare? ‘ ‘Ai, when will morning come?
It is horrible to lie still,’ she said, ‘feeling
The black of April… it’s nothing, it’s nothing… like a cat
Tick tick on padded feet. Ah let me alone, will you?
Lying quiet does it: I’ll have courage in my time.’
A little later she asked for food, she ate,
And drank from the stream, and slept. She moved in her sleep
And tossed her arms, Vasquez would cover them again,
But the fever seemed quieted. He crossed the stream by the
stones in the dull fire-glimmer
And fetched armfuls of flood-wood from under the opposite
bridge-head. The fire revived; the earth turned past mid-
Far eastward beyond the coasts of the continent morning troubled
Vasquez crouched by the fire
And felt one of those revelations that were in his own regard
the jewels and value of his life
Approach and begin. First passed as always
Since Barclay was gone, whom he had taken for incarnate God
ancestral forms against the white cloud,
The high dark heads of Indian migrations, going south along the
coast, drawn down from the hungry straits and from Asia,
The heads like worn coins and the high shoulders,
The brown-lipped patient mouths below vulture beaks, and bur-
nished fall of black hair over slant foreheads,
Going up to the Mayan and the Aztec mountains, and sowing
the coast. They swept the way and the cloud cleared,
The vision would come: came instead a strong pause.
A part of his mind
Wished to remember what the rest had forgotten,
And groping for it in the dark withstood the prepared
Pageant of dreams. He’d read in his curious boyhood
Of the child the mother is found incapable of bearing
Cut from the mother’s belly. Both live: the wound
Heals: it was called the Caesarean section. But he, fearing
Whatever thought might threaten to infringe his careful
Chastity of mind, had quickly canceled the memory;
That now sought a new birth; it might save Clare
If he could think of it.
That revived part
Made itself into the vision, all to no purpose,
His precious dreams were never to the point of life.
Only the imperial name, and the world’s
Two-thousand-year and ten-thousand-miles-traveled
Caesarean memory appeared. He imagined at first that the voice
Cried ‘Ave Maria,’ but it cried ‘Ave Cxsar.’
He saw the firelight-gilded
Timbers of the bridge above; and one of the ewes lifted her head
in the light beside Clare sleeping;
The smoke gathered its cloud into a floating globe and these were
forgotten. On the globe of the earth
The aquiline-headed Roman, who summed in his one person the
powers and ordered science of humanity,
Stood and possessed his orb of empire, and looked at the stars.
Then the voice cried
‘The pride of the earth.’
But Vasquez laughed aloud, for the
earth was a grain of dust circling the fire,
And the fire itself but a spark, among innumerable sparks. The
swarm of the points of light drifting
No path down darkness merged its pin-prick eyelets into one
misty glimmer, a millstone in shape,
A coin in shape, a mere coin, a flipped luckpenny: but again
Laughed out, for who was the spendthrift sowed them all over
the sky, indistinguishable innumerable
Fish-scales of light? They drew together as they drifted away
no path down the wild darkness; he saw
The webs of their rays made them one tissue, their rays that
were their very substance and power filled wholly
The space they were in, so that each one touched all, there was
no division between them, no emptiness, and each
Changed substance with all the others and became the others.
It was dreadful to see
No space between them, no cave of peace nor no night of quiet-
ness, no blind spot nor no deaf heart, but the tides
Of power and substance flood every cranny; no annihilation, no
escape but change: it must endure itself
Forever. It has the strength to endure itself. We others, being
faintly made of the dust of a grain of dust
Have been permitted to fool our patience asleep by inventing
death. A poor comfort, he thought,
Yet better than none, the imaginary cavern, how we all come
To the gates of our great invention after few years.
Though a cheat, it works.
The speckled tissue of universes
Drew into one formed and rounded light, and Vasquez
Worshiped the one light. One eye… what, an eye?
A dark mountain with an eye in its cliff? A coal-black stallion
Eyed with one burning eye in the mid brow?
Night has an eye. The poor little vision-seer
Groaned, that he never had wit to understand visions.
See all and know nothing. The eye that makes its own light
And sees nothing but itself. ‘I am seeing Barclay again,’
He marveled, as who should say ‘I am seeing God:
But what is God? ‘ He continued gazing,
And beads of sweat spilled from his forehead into the fire-edge
Ashes. He saw at last, neither the eyed mountain
Nor the stallion, nor Barclay, but his own eye
In the darkness of his own face.
The circuit was closed:
‘I can endure all things,’ he thought, ‘forever. I am he
Whom I have sought.
‘And Clare loves all things
Because all things are herself. She has killed her father
And inherited. Her old enormous father
Who rode the furrows full tilt, sowing with both hands
The high field above the hills and the ocean. We kill steers for
meat, and God
To be atoned with him. But I remain from myself divided, gazing
beyond the flaming walls,
Not fortunate enough, and too faint-hearted.’
He continued gaz-
ing across the wane of the fire at the dark
Vision of his own face turned sideways, the light of one eye.
Clare turned in her place and awoke and said,
‘How awfully little. Ooh, Ooh,’ in a dove’s voice,
And then, ‘I forgot I wasn’t alone, Onorio:
And here are the sheep. Have I slept a moment?
I did have a strange dream. I went out across the starlight
Knocking through flight after flight of the shiny balls
And got so far away that the sun and the great earth
And beautiful moon and all the stars were blended
Into one tiny light, Oh terribly little,
The flame of a pitiful little candle blown over
In the wind of darkness, in the fear of the night. It was so tiny
I wanted to be its comfort
And hold it and rock it on my breast. One wee flicker
In all the wild dark. What a dream.’ She turned anxiously
To touch the sheep, fondling their heads and naming them.
‘Dear Fay, dear Fern. And here’s Captain Saul. Ah bad little
Who taught you to be so bold? ‘ Suddenly she cried
‘Did Leader and Frannie go out did two of the sheep
Go out lately? ‘ But Vasquez, caught in his vision,
Answered ‘You also have broken
The fire-studded egg of heaven and we’re together
In the world outside.’ ‘Ah Ah,’ she cried desolately,
‘Did you lie when you counted them? When I was sick
And my eyes failed? ‘ She ran into the darkness outside, calling
The flock that remained stood up, in the edge of firelight, tremu-
lously crying. Then Vasquez: ‘I hear a multitude
Of people crying, but why do you lament and cry? You particles
of the eye of light, if some of you
Endure evil, the others endure good, the balance is perfect. The
eye lives on mixed light and darkness,
Not either alone. And you are not many but one, the eye is not
glad nor sorry, nor the dark face
Disquieted: be quiet, voices, and hear the real voice.’ Clare
Walker came in from the dark with wide strained eyes,
In each iris the fire reflected made a red stain, and she cried:
‘Onorio, for Christ’s sake tell me, were they not with me?
Or have they slipped out? ‘ He turned slowly an unanswering
Of cool, dark and deaf stone, tempered to the mood
Of what he imagined… or perhaps perceived. And Clare:
‘If I have slept and been dreaming while they’re in danger
Or die in the dark: and they cried for me
In the dead night, while I slept and ate: I hope that all the
miseries I ever feared for myself
Will come doubled, the rain on my hair be knives of ice, the sun
whips of fire, the death I must die
Drawn out and dreadful like the dream of hell: Onorio, Oh come,
Help me to find them! ‘ He rose, passively under command in
the shrill of her voice, muttering: ‘I can’t
Imagine what further’s to find: yet I’ll go along.
Is there another light or another darkness? ‘
‘Oh,’ she answered, ‘it’s black,’ and snatched the most eager
Out of the fire for a torch. He with deft fingers
Mimicking her act, but with a sleepwalker mindlessness,
Bound fire into a bundle of sallow twigs,
And calmly, twirling his torch to flame, followed
The red glow of her rod-ends. They ran on the bridge and
Up the wet road, Clare calling her flock around her
And sobbing the names of the lost. The useless torches
Flared in the puddles and ruts of water, and ruddied
The plump backs of the sheep; so sanguine-outlined
The little ridiculous procession strayed up the road
In the lane of the trees, the great-trunked wood like storms
Of darkness on either hand. The torches died soon,
Then Clare stood still, desolately calling; weak dawn
Had washed all the world gray.
The heads of the little flock
Suddenly and all together were turned one way, then a limping
Came out of the wood. Clare screamed with joy, and ran and
dropped on her knees to embrace the lean neck. ‘Oh Leader!
Leader! She’s safe, Onorio. Oh Leader where’s Frannie? ‘ But
then the wound was discovered, the flap torn back
Red from the flank and hanging from the rump, and the blood-
caked wool. Clare moaned awhile with no words, and said,
‘When I forgot you because I was sick, when I forgot to call
you and count you in the rain in the night:
I wish I had died. I have nothing but these,
Onorio, to take care of, and lose and lose. She used to go first
always, I called her Leader:
And now she’s hurt.’ Onorio heard Clare’s teeth clacking to-
gether in the thin cheeks, and her breath
Hissing between them, he answered calmly, still caught in his
vision: ‘The five claws of a lion. Look, Clare.
But don’t grieve, the great river of the blood of life is always
bursting its banks, never runs dry,
Secret inexhaustible fountains feed it.’ She stared at his face and
turned on the forest her desert eyes
And wrung her hands. ‘Leader is hurt; and Frannie I think has
They searched long; the fourth hour
Of daylight they found the half consumed body. The head was
not mangled, Clare fell beside it
On the wet earth and kissed the half open eyes,
Weeping and self-reproachful, but yet she lamented
Less violently than Vasquez had feared. At length
He said, ‘If you wish, Clare, I will fetch tools
And bury it here.’ She answered faintly, ‘No matter.
She feels nothing to-day, darkness nor light,
Teeth nor the grave. Oh, I loved her well: but now, see,
She’s not living any more, Onorio… isn’t that your name?
What a stately name! … this is the one that fed me with milk
Long after the others were dry, she was like a mother to me,
when I might have starved.
She loved me, I know.
But even the udders are torn. Her name, Onorio, was Frannie.’
She turned and said, ‘Poor Leader. Can you come now?
Come Fern, come Fay, come Tiny, we have to go on.
Vasquez begged her to turn again
And stay at his father’s place in the canyon
Until she was well. She had to go on, she answered.
And Vasquez: ‘My father is withered up with old age but he’d
be kind; and my brothers
Would be your brothers. There’s pasture for the sheep. We’re
only a sort of Indians but we can be kind. Come, Clare.
The place is pleasant and alone, up the deep canyon, beside the
old quarry and the kilns where they burnt the lime.
A hundred laborers used to live there, but now the woods have
grown back, the cabins are standing empty,
The roads are gone. I think the old masonry kilns are beautiful,
standing like towers in the deep forest,
But cracked and leaning, and maidenhair fern grows from the
cracks. The creek makes music below. Come, Clare.
It is deep with peace. When I have to go about and work on
men’s farms for wages I long for that place
Like some one thinking of water in deserts. Sometimes we hear
the sea’s thunder, far down the deep gorge.
The darkness under the trees in spring is starry with flowers,
with redwood sorrel, colt’s foot, wakerobin,
The slender-stemmed pale yellow violets,
And Solomon’s seal that makes intense islands of fragrance in
April.’ ‘Oh, April,’ she said trembling,
‘How exactly it follows. How could I rest? Ah, no,
Good-by, good-by, Onorio. Poor Leader, I am sure
We can go a little way before dark. Come, Saul, Saul.’
She ran a few steps, panting hard.
No hope of staying her: ‘Then I’ll go back to the bridge
And fetch my horse and my coat. I’ll not leave you, Clare.’
He went slowly, heavy and amazed. His horse
Had broken tether in the night, stung by the hailstones.
Then Vasquez, still drunken with the dregs of his vision
To fatalist indifference, went hunting the horse
And found it late. He followed Clare the next morning,
But met another vision on the road, that waved
Impatient white hands against his passage, saying
‘If I go up to Calvary ten million times: what is that to you?
Let me go up.’ Vasquez drew rein and sat staring.
He saw beyond the vision in the yellow mud
Prints of bare feet, dibbled about with many
Little crowding hoof-marks; he marveled, feeling no sadness
But lonely thoughts.
Clare Walker had crossed the ridge and
To the mouth of Cawdor’s Canyon. Japanese tenants
Now kept the house; short broad-faced men who planted
Lettuces in the garden against the creek-side
And beans on the hill. The barns were vacant, the cattle
Were vanished from the high pastures. The men were friendly,
Clare begged at their hands a little oil to soften
The bandage on Leader’s wound; she’d torn her spent dress
In strips to bind it, and went now without clothing
But the long brown cloak.
She went northward, and on a foreland
Found vacant cabins around a ruined saw-mill;
And finding sacks of dry straw with a worn blankec
In one of the cabins, slept well and awoke refreshed
To travel on slowly northward in the glad sunlight
And sparkle of the sea. But the next day was dark,
And one of the wethers died, she never knew why,
She wept and went on.
Near Point Lobos, by a gate
Where Tamar Cauldwell used to lean from her white pony
To swing the bars, the lion-stricken ewe, Leader,
Groaned and lay down and died. Clare met much kindness there;
She was nursed in the house, helpless, for many days,
And the sheep were guarded and fed. The people clothed her
And calmed her wild mind; but she was not willing to tell them
Her griefs nor her cause of fear. They kept her by watchful
Until she escaped, a great night of moonlight, and fled
With her small flock.
Far up the Carmel Valley
The river became a brook, she watched a salmon
Row its worn body up-stream over the stones
And struck by a thwart current expose the bruised
White belly to the white of the sky, gashed with red wounds,
but right itself
And wriggle up-stream, having that within it, spirit or desire,
Will spend all its dear flesh and all the power it has gathered, in
the sweet salt pastures and fostering ocean,
To find the appointed high-place and perish. Clare Walker, in
a bright moment’s passage of anxious feeling,
Knowing nothing of its fate saw her own fate reflected. She
drank, and the sheep drank; they went up the valley
And crossed, the next day, among the long-needled pines, the
great thirsty sky-ridge.
In the valley beyond
Clare journeyed northward again, anxiously avoiding
The traveled roads and hiding herself from people
In fear that some one’s force or kindness might steal her
From the helpless flock; and later in habitual fear.
She was seen much later, heavily swollen
Toward child-birth, cowering from a thin April rain
By a little fire on the San Joaquin river-bank,
Sharing a camp of outcast men; no sheep
Remained with her, but when she moved in the morning
She called the names of many, Fern, Fay and Leader,
Nosie and Saul and little Hornie and the others,
‘Dear Tiny, dear Frannie, come on, we have to go on.’
The toothless tramp bandaging his foot by the fire
Looked up with a flicker of light in his slack face,
And the sickly sullen boy on the other side
Smiled without mockery. Clare had gone half a mile
And felt a grinding pang in her back, she clung to the fence
And saw the poplars planted along the road
Reach dreadfully away northward. When the pain ended
She went on northward; but after the second pain
She crept down to the river and hid her body
In a willow thicket. In the evening, between the rapid
Summits of agony before exhaustion, she called
The sheep about her and perceived that none came.