A man walks beside them
with a whip that he cracks.
The cart they draw is painted
with Saracens and Crusaders,
fierce eyes and ranks of spears.

They are on the steep road
that goes up the mountain.
Their neat-stepping hoofs
appear to be flickering
in the sun, raising dust.

They are higher than the roofs
on which striped gourds and melons
lie ripening. They move
among the dark green olives
that grow on the rocks.

They dwindle as they climb . . .
vanish around a corner
and reappear walking on the edge
of a precipice. They enter
the region of mist and darkness.

I think I can see them still:
a pair of yoked oxen
the color of ivory or smoke,
with red tassels,
in the gathering dusk.

This article originally appeared in The New Criterion, Volume 6 Number 4, on page 49
Copyright © 2017 The New Criterion | www.newcriterion.com
newcriterion.com/issues/1987/12/white-oxen