The Shepherd Who Remained in the Fields

I had to stay behind to watch the flocks,
a sentry against lions, bears, wolves, thieves,
and other dangers slouching through the rocks
and hills.  No matter how much one believes
the promises of angels, work goes on—
and on and on: sometimes life seems to be
one endless graveyard shift, night without dawn,
with Adam’s curse its sole security.
Tonight, however, having heard the song
sung by winged seraphs, robed in heliotrope,
emerald, and gold, I know that I belong
here on this knoll, and that all nights have hope.
For though our mundane duties please us least,
to God, the faithful shepherd is a priest.



On Falling Asleep While Praying

Dragging along a day’s mundane concerns,
I drop into my bed and close my eyes
to seek the audience that faith discerns
with God, who promised he would not despise
the lowly and contrite.  Will he include
the tired and distracted in his grace?
Surely the harried need beatitude
as much as any who pursue his face.
The spirit tries to lock the world away
and for ten minutes leave the flesh behind,
but being in the body, flesh must pray
for any to gain heaven with the mind.
I struggle through perfunctory adoration,
and drowsily recite Psalm Sixty-three,
then end up in a dark wood of conflation,
confused and wandering lost from tree to tree.
Sleep rises like a fog. Thought disappears,
leaving sin’s latest census half-confessed,
requests unmade, thanksgiving in arrears,
and deference haphazardly expressed.
Unfortunately, with me this is more
the rule than the exception.  Will it be
that I’m accounted guiltier before
God’s throne than sleepers in Gethsemane?
Have pity, Lord, since I will never win
my struggle to put by this life’s commotion.
For nothing but your mercy can begin
to count failed piety as true devotion.



Duane Caylor is a physician in Dubuque, IA.  His poetry has appeared in a number of journals, including First Things, Measure, Slant, and Blue Unicorn.

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8 Responses

  1. Sally Cook

    Fine, thought-provoking poems. I have seen your work before; believe it was in Blue Unicorn — you may also have seen mine there.
    Good to see you on this site.

    • Duane Caylor

      Thank you for your comments. I have, indeed, seen your work here and in Blue Unicorn.

  2. jd

    Enjoyed both of these, Dr. Caylor. Poems of Faith
    are particularly difficult for this writer and I
    think you write them beautifully.

    • Duane Caylor

      Thank you. I agree with your observation about writing poetry of faith. I think this applies especially to writing which attempt to convey the objective content of faith (hopefully without sacrificing the subjective experience).

  3. Margaret Coats

    The sonnet is a beautifully done Christmas midnight poem, especially the turn with song and color breaking in, and the resolution in the couplet. In “Falling Asleep” I notice all the classic purposes of prayer (adoration, thanksgiving, reparation, petition), along with the requirement that the whole man (body, mind, and spirit) pray. According to one of my friends, God is not only merciful enough to “count failed piety as true devotion,” but sends angels to finish the prayers of those who fall asleep while praying.

    • Duane Caylor

      Thank you for your kind compliments. Your friend’s comment reminds me of what Paul says in the eighth chapter of the Epistle to the Romans about the Spirit praying for us in our weakness. I strive to put into current idiom the kinds of ideas Donne wrote on in his religious poetry. My apology to John Donne for my many inadequacies in that regard.


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