THE BAD SHEPHERD

 

I am the bad shepherd

Leading my flocks through pennants red

To slaughters paid for by pastures green

I reap behind their backs

 

Yea, though it be the valley of the shadow of death

I am sure of my sinewy cant

My rod and my staff I wave about

Filled with the fire of God

 

I am sure of the snake oil I sell

And ascribe evil to those who look askance

As I feed the wolves that feed on the flocks

That heed my voice in bliss

 

For the righteous will have their due

And I'll blush at no expedient lie

The dogs will keep the flocks in line

As we approach the End Times

 

I am the bad shepherd

Selling my wool before I shear

Finally we'll shear them to the bone

Far from all still waters

 

 

Eric Mader,

September, 2003

 

 

 

 

NOTES

 

Make no mistake.  If I write Notes to this poem, it's not because I consider it a major poetic accomplishment.  I know it is not.  Rather I write these notes simply because the story of the poem's writing is amusing in a confused kind of way.  The notes explain something of how the poem came about.

 

I wrote "The Bad Shepherd" almost in a flash after coming upon the following lines by the Scottish poet Robert Crawford:

 

I am the bad shepherd, torching my flocks in the fields,

Feeding them accelerant, hecatombs of wedders and tups.

In pits or pyres all are sheared and shamed by the flames.

Every sheep is a black sheep in that fire,

Penned in by heat, conspicuously consumed. 

          (from Robert Crawford: The Tip of My Tongue)

 

I'm not certain if this is the whole of Crawford's poem because I haven't a copy of his book here.  Evidently Crawford's shepherd poem evokes the last European outbreak of foot-and-mouth disease.  I came upon the lines while doing an online search for something else, and after reading them I reached for my notebook, and my own bleak pastoral was the result.

    

But I knew it wasn't Crawford's poem alone (that and Psalm 23) that was in my crop when I wrote of my own bad shepherd.  There was a "bad shepherd" poem I'd read last year in The New York Review of Books, a poem that, like mine, was written in honor of George W. Bush and his incendiary administration.  I've just now spent nearly an hour trying to find that poem, to no avail.  Was it maybe published somewhere else and not in The New York Review of Books?  It's possible.  I can't quite be certain where I read it.

    

But also: The morning after I wrote my four stanzas I went back to read Psalm 23.  I wanted to check the exact wording of the original in the King James Version, and was a little surprised at what I found:

 

The LORD is my shepherd; I shall not want.

 

He maketh me to lie down in green pastures: he leadeth me beside the still waters.

 

He restoreth my soul: he leadeth me in the paths of righteousness for his name's sake.

 

Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: for thou art with me; thy rod and thy staff they comfort me.

 

Thou preparest a table before me in the presence of mine enemies: thou anointest my head with oil; my cup runneth over.

 

Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life: and I will dwell in the house of the LORD for ever.

 

I was surprised by this text because I'd distinctly remembered the line: "Through pastures green he leadeth me the silent waters by."  (In fact in echo of these words I'd ended the first draft of my own poem with the line "Far from all silent waters.")  As I could see upon checking the King James, however, the parallel line reads: "He maketh me to lie down in green pastures: he leadeth me beside the still waters."  Still waters, not silent waters.  So from where, I wondered, had the more melodious version come into my head--"Through pastures green he leadeth me the silent waters by"?  It must, I supposed, have come from the Revised Standard Version, the text we read back in Sunday School at Divine Redeemer Lutheran when I was a kid.  I went to check that text, but found that the RSV was different too.

    

Where, then, had they come from, these lines rooted in my memory:

 

The Lord is my shepherd,

I shall not want,

He makes me down to lie;

Through pastures green he leadeth me the silent waters by.

 

I finally decided to have recourse to the Internet and ran a search.  I had to laugh aloud when I got my answer.  In fact the version of Psalm 23 closest to my heart had apparently come from. . .  Pink Floyd's album Animals.  I'd listened to the album at least two-hundred times when I was fifteen or sixteen.  The pastiche of the psalm comes in the song "Sheep," and the whole text reads:

 

The Lord is my shepherd,

I shall not want;

He makes me down to lie.

Through pastures green he leadeth me the silent waters by.

With bright knives he releaseth my soul;

He maketh me to hang on hooks in high places.

He converteth me to lamb cutlets;

For lo, he hath great power and great hunger.

 

When cometh the day we lowly ones,

Through quiet reflection and great dedication,

Master the art of karate, lo, we shall rise up,

And then we'll make the bugger's eyes water.

 

Did Pink Floyd come up with those first four lines or do they come from somewhere else?  Do they come from The Book of Common Prayer maybe?  Anyhow it really doesn't matter in my case.  I wasn't raised Anglican.  I have to face the fact that my dearest version of Psalm 23 came from Pink Floyd.

    

Certainly Pink Floyd and Robert Crawford and that New York Review of Books poem account for something of my rush to write my own indictment of our new American Bad Shepherd.  The notion of a bad shepherd poem had been gathering in my unconscious.  But there was maybe one further element that cinched it.  The pastoralist theme had been in my crop during the recent few days because I'd just read Bruce Chatwin's essay on nomadic culture in the collection What am I Doing Here?  The essay, "Nomad Invasions," is a meditation on the culture of pastoral nomads in both the Bible and history.  It probably fixed a wider historical frame in my mind, after which I came upon the Crawford lines and reached for my notebook to write out my own.

 

I sent the poem to friends, one of whom, the poet Ryu Makoto, responded promptly.  He criticized it for being too direct in its satire, not oblique enough.  He also suggested I stick closer to my model in the 23rd Psalm.  These criticisms are surely good--Ryu is five times the poet I am--but I've left the poem as is, at least on this page.  Ryu also sent two examples of his own, one he wrote years ago in Japan, the other written I'm not sure when.  I'll include them here, to round out this little anthology. 

 

 

THE LDP PSALM

 

The Diet is my cash register.

I shall not want.

It leadeth me beside slow cash flows

Into green bank accounts.

It setteth Daiwa and Nomura

on a table before me

for their names' sake.

Yea, though I walk through the valley

of Total Indebtedness,

Hashimoto's rod and his staff shall lead me

To refinance debt into capital,

And we shall walk on Cloud Nine

With the Imperial Family

Forever.

 

Amen.

 

 

 

THE BOARD'S PRAYER

 

Our oil well,

Which art in Arabia,

Hallowed be thy name.

Thy Kingdom come,

Thy deal be done,

In Riyadh as it is in Houston.

Give us this day

Our daily barrel,

And forgive not the Iraqi debt to Kuwait

As we have forgiven Mexico's.

And lead us not into Armageddon,

But deliver us from Saddam Hussein

As you did from Khomeini, Khadafy and Nasser.

For thine is the stock market,

The internal combustion engine,
And the Pentagon

Forever and ever.

 

Amen.

 

 

(Note: Ryu Makoto is one of the pen names of Drew Stroud.  He currently runs Saru Press International .)

 

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