by David Betteridge
For Ken Robson, shepherd, of Stanhope Farm
in Tweeddale, with whom the author worked
two lambing seasons, in 1964 and 1965.
In his practice, Ken Robson brought
the term “good shepherd” to active life.
On the first day of Christmas, a bent trader said to me:
Blessed are they which do hunger
and thirst: for they shall make
my till ring.
He spoke merrily.
On the second day of Christmas,
the trader’s accountant said to me:
Cursed are the poor:
for they have too little cash to bring.
He spoke disdainfully.
On the third day of Christmas,
a banker-felon said to me:
Blessed are the meek:
for they shall shrink from saying Boo,
challenging my fat goose.
He spoke dismissively.
On the fourth day of Christmas,
the banker’s offshore banker said to me:
Cursed are they that mourn:
for they shall stir up others’ sympathy,
and let kindness loose.
He spoke maliciously.
On the fifth day of Christmas,
a cabinet minister said to me:
Blessed are the merciful:
for they shall acquit me always
of my every tort.
He spoke assuredly.
On the sixth day of Christmas,
the minister’s lawyer said to me:
Cursed are the pure in heart:
for they cannot be coerced
or fooled or bought.
He spoke frustratedly.
On the remaining days of Christmas,
others spoke in no better terms to me -
the world’s Herods, Judases, and the like -
venting evil against the world’s poor,
for whom they held a killing spite.
They spoke bitterly...
Wheesht, my troubled soul!
Ignore these stridencies of power;
instead attune, and listen hard,
and hear a gentler voice,
one that is kind and clear,
that goes against the louder strain,
and calls and calls for justice
and for peace, holding
As down the ages,
so this bleak Christmas, once again,
steadfastly, this quiet urging
makes its never-granted claim.
Wheesht, attune and listen,
as a parent searching for a child listens,
or as a shepherd, cocking his ear,
concentrates to catch the sound
of his lost lamb’s bleat,
until he finds the place at last
where a burn has carried the poor mite
down, from a windy hill
to a wet peat!
David Betteridge is the author of a collection of poems celebrating Glasgow and its radical traditions, 'Granny Albyn's Complaint', published by Smokestack Books in 2008. He is also the editor of a compilation of poems, songs, prose memoirs, photographs and cartoons celebrating the 1971-2 UCS work-in on Clydeside. This book, called 'A Rose Loupt Oot', was published by Smokestack Books in 2011.