A Shepherd’s Voice

by Anna Crowe

A Shepherd’s Voice
          after 2 pictographic clay tablets from
          Tell Brak, Syria, c. 4000 BCE

The river the clay was dug from
has vanished, so we must imagine

ducks squabbling
among the rushes, the flight

of cranes at sunset, night
erupting with bullfrog cries.

What’s scratched into the clay
is a voice, a shepherd’s, who declares

Here are 10 goats
Here are 10 sheep

His dry receipts remain
to tell us that barren desert

was pasture, watered, green;
and though his flocks have shrunk

to two baked bits of clay,
what’s scratched there is

the shepherd’s voice, calling
his beasts into our field of vision

some lopeared with rough brown coats,
others whose big horns coil like rope:

Here are 10 goats
Here are 10 sheep

coming to drink, bells clunking, sending up
birdcries; the reeds confer, the water laps.