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Cheryl Denise

Cheryl at hay bale

Cheryl Denise is the author of two books of poetry, What’s in the Blood and I Saw God Dancing both published by Cascadia Publishing House, Telford, PA. She has a spoken word poetry and music CD called Leaving Eden. Cheryl and her husband, Mike Miller, live in the intentional community of Shepherds Field near Philippi, WV where they raise Jacob sheep and sell blankets and yarn.

Again with the Sheep

Today the calendar says, Write Poetry,
before getting up, before
leaving that watery time.
But outside my bedroom window
two sheep are on the wrong side of the fence
as if the fence were just a suggestion.
This is a community farm
but the men are gone
the men are always gone when the sheep get out.
Shutting my notebook
I plunge my feet in black boots
and trudge to the barn,
find the feed can empty.
Buddha says breathe deep, even, gentle.
I try. Damn men.

I shake a small bribe in a yellow bucket,
yell, Sarah, Sarah. I call every ewe Sarah
after the good one, that Suffolk
who went to market years ago.
She ate from our hands,
led the flock where we said.

Again I jostle the feed
and the two impudent ewes fling up their faces,
and take off bleating, chasing me to the barn
but at the open door they stop. Understanding
the trick, they stomp, turn,
dirty wool-balls bound down the field.

Panting, I phone Minnette: Sheep, out, tried, can’t.
She comes in her magical calm
and the ewes, as if deciding she is the Good Shepherd,
trot into the barn behind her.
With that done we walk the fence line
search for holes, tufts of pulled wool on barbed wire.
I apologize for interrupting her morning.
She laughs, It is what it is, her mantra
for anything that goes awry.

Unable to leave, I sit watching the flock
and they watch me.
I am dissolving
in the thick black lines of their pupils.
With hard yellow teeth they yank clumps of grass.
Jaws jut side to side. They baaa
as if their mouths are full of marbles,
as if to say we are content and intend to stay.
With that they send me home.


In spring I dream of woven wire gleaming
with sunlight and promises kept,
fresh silver pulled taut against long lines
of locust posts erect as soldiers
alert and ready.

But my fence is a reunion of droopy old men
barely able to hang on to their tangle of rusty wires.

This morning five lambs hop over the sagging strands
dash up the gravel road
7:20am and me in heels, driving to the office
and the neighbor in work boots
calling from his porch
asking if I need help.
I always need help.

Two farms over Freddie’s fence is worse,
cows loose every few weeks, grazing
our front field. His cell phone never works
so I have to call his mother.
It takes a few days
before his rusty Chevy careens up the drive,
Freddie’s head out the window, hand on the horn
herding his thin Jerseys back to their steep
grassless pasture.

Sometimes when my fence is working
I sit inside it as if part of the flock.
Wool-clouds drift by on pipe-cleaner legs.
A ewe sniffs my boots,
stares into my eyes, the rectangle bars of her pupils
supposing me something exotic.
As if on a dare two lambs climb my coveralls
nibble the shiny buttons, then race off
to play tag with the rest
sprinting from one sturdy
fence line to the other.

As if hearing some wild good news
silver-wooled Edna surveys the sky
leaps sideways three times kicking her heels.
Then stops
looks left,
checks right,
hoping her companions didn’t see.
She joins them, content
to munch the grass of this field,
the garden, the lawn, the woods unthinkable.

It’s a good day when the fence works.

Fences II

Sometimes I wish Becca, my old roommate
were here, sitting with me inside the fence
with the flock. Back in La Jara,
where we volunteered to fix poverty,
she taught me to two-step, eased me from worry.
She has never come to Shepherds Field.
In Durango she paints pictures,
fences in the sky.
On wooden panels she layers color
sands, scratches, repeats.

Yesterday two rams broke
through and wandered the woods
farther   and   farther.
Forced to trespass for hours I shook
a bucket of feed, calling Merlin,
Odie. Becca would have told me when to stop,
sensing they’d probably come home, come dark,
like we all do after some wild excursion,
and she should know. And they did,
settling themselves outside the barn,
under the oak, to sleep, like always.

Becca says when two fences don’t meet,
the space between is called no man’s land.
No one owns it, anyone can use it.
But I won’t.
I prefer to stay inside my fences,
patch holes, latch gates,
walk thin, well worn paths
to the same truth, the same poem,
the same god.

Becca doesn’t need a path.
Her fences wander off hills into pockets
of sky, they meander like bands of preschoolers
holding hands on a field trip.
She dismantles white picket fences, teaches
borders are transparent
― sometimes.
She calls her collection Boundaries
but they aren’t
they keep nothing out
nothing in.
They scare me,
all that looseness, that rising,
who I would be if I wandered there.

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