At the Sign of ‘The Manger’

caravansary
Caravanserai by Francis Hoyland

At the Sign of ‘The Manger’

Innkeeping’s an hon’rable trade,
Whatever they say –
We’re a welcome light at the end-of-day –
We’re a dry roof and roaring fire
That’s safe from the wolf and the bandit’s blade
When legs begin to tire –
And ev’ryone can call us home
Who come from Babylon to Rome,
Or pilgrims to Jerusalem –
You won’t catch us refusing them,
As long as we get paid.
Or caravans from out the East,
Or shepherds after one last feast
Before they spend their weeks upon the hills.
Our stable yard is filled with strangers –
Merchants, rabbis, farmers, rangers –
And the horses, camels, asses
Of the ever-moving masses,
Who seek shelter from the season’s chills.

But last month, after years of this life,
Of seeing it all – I saw a first.
A man leading a donkey bearing his wife
Who was bearing his child –
Poor beast !  I mean, what a load !
She was so big, fit to burst.
I tell you, it fair got me riled, my friend,
To make her travel so close to her end
On such a bumpy road.
And busy too, this time of year,
With wanderers from far and near
All passing through and moving on,
Who all descend upon our rooms –
It’s boomtime for the hostelries,
We’re busier than bees.

So when they banged upon my door,
I knew I hadn’t even got
A patch of floor to offer them –
Not even room to fit a cot.
Now don’t condemn –
When I, my wife and staff, the lot,
Had long since given up our beds
For other needful, weary heads.
And yet…how could we leave them out to rot ?
Maybe they were on the run,
I wonder what they’ve done ?  But you know what ?
We still could not, and so instead,
We offered them the cattle shed, for what it’s worth.

The place was red with afterbirth
Before the rising of the sun.
Between the ox-cart and the ploughs,
She laid the kid upon the hay
That otherwise would feed the cows.
And when we could, we brought a tray
And kept an eye that all was well –
She understood, but truth to tell
We’d fifty other guests to serve each day.
And they were on their way before I knew it,
After just a week or two –
Heading home or onto somewhere new.
I guess I wish them well and all,
And maybe someday years from now
The child will come around to call,
And maybe make it big somehow.
They were the stranger sort of strangers, sure enough,
In all they did,
But still, they didn’t lack for love to pass down to their kid.

Ah well, better air the rooms and see the beds get made,
Then pop down to the well to draw some water.
But don’t you see, an innkeeper’s a good and honest trade ?
Just ask that couple and their newborn daughter.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s