We Follow

By Sheryl Lain

I rode with Dad
in our old Ford pickup,
through a spring blizzard.
Thick white snow blinded us.

I was safe and warm inside Dad’s competence
as he drove to rescue sheep, bound and determined
to follow the leader and die.

At the fence corner, Dad stopped and held the door for me,
straining against wind’s persistence to scour us from the new land.

The blasts drove needles into my eyes
and whipped the sheep
into a slough’s thin skin of ice over two feet of water.
They’d all freeze in a pile-up,
their water-logged wool weighing them down.

Dad pitted his will against sheep’s instinct to follow the tail in front
even to death.

He threw one sheep after another onto dry ground
while I blocked their single-minded attempt to return to the herd,
thwarting their dead end, over and over,
until critical mass and the herd’s attention turned
and they followed another leader to a drier corner of the field.

Dad’s battalion unlocked the gates of Mauthausen.
Later, Dad meant it when he told his students,
“Just because everyone else does it, doesn’t mean you have to.”

Deep in their DNA my ninth graders are sheep, too,
obeying the comfortable mindlessness of following the tail in front
to certain extinction, except for some teacher’s intervention.