Posts Tagged ‘nativity’

Nativity Suite

Several years ago I wrote this set of poems as a gift to family and friends. I thought I would share them again. You will notice that Anna and Simeon are included but not the Magi; I wanted to include only those people from Jesus’ earliest days, not his toddlerhood. Yes, I am that Type A. Surprised?

I must also credit Willow Springs, in which the “Mary” installment first appeared.

If I don’t post until then, a blessed Christmas to everyone.

I. The Shepherd

Last night I watched another wet lamb

slide into the dark and beheld this same

drowsy beauty:  a mother bending toward

her nursing young. New limbs trembling.

Matching rhythms of breath.

The angels told us to praise and adore.

I spend my life trying not to love

such small things. But again and again

I carry my new lambs and name them,

play songs for them on the reed pipe,

bind their broken legs and search for them

in the foothills, until they are sold and worn,

served up, split open on an altar

and I feel my own blood rushing to the edge.

II. Joseph

Of any birth, I thought this

would be a clean one,

like pulling white linen

from a loom.

But when I return to the cave,

Mary throws her cloak

over the bloody straw and cries.

I know she wants me to leave.

There he lies, stomach rising

and falling, a shriveled pod

that does nothing but stare

at the edge of the feeding trough

with dark, unsteady eyes.

Is he God enough

to know that I am poor,

that we had no time

for a midwife, that swine ate

from his bed this morning?

If the angel was right, he knows.

He knows that Mary’s swell

embarrassed me, that I was jealous

of her secret skyward smiles,

that now I want to run into these hills

and never come back.

Peace, peace, I’ve heard in my dreams.

This child will make you right.

But I can only stand here,

not a husband, not a father,

my hands hanging dumbly

at my sides. Do I touch him,

this child who is mine

and not mine? Do I enter

the kingdom of blood and stars?

III. Mary

The angel said there would be no end

to his kingdom. So for three hundred days

I carried rivers and cedars and mountains.

Stars spilled in my belly when he turned.

Now I can’t stop touching his hands,

the pink pebbles of his knuckles,

the soft wrinkle of flesh

between his forefinger and thumb.

I rub his fingernails as we drift

in and out of sleep. They are small

and smooth, like almond petals.

Forever, I will need nothing but these.

But all night, the visitors crowd

around us. I press his palms to my lips

in silence. They look down in anticipation,

as if they expect him to suddenly

spill coins from his hands

or raise a gold scepter

and turn swine into angels.

Isn’t this wonder enough

that yesterday he was inside me,

and now he nuzzles next to my heart?

That he wraps his hand around

my finger and holds on?

IV. The Angel

Oh, God, I am heavy

with glory. My head thunders

from singing in the hills.

This night will come once.

Enough bright lights.

Enough shouting

at shepherds in the fields.

Let me slip into the stable

and crouch among

the rooting swine.

Let me close my eyes

and feel the child’s breath,

this wind that blows

through the mountains and stars,

lifting my weary wings.

V. Anna the Prophetess

Widows of Jerusalem, I too was once

young enough to believe my life mattered.

When I woke, the sun rose for me. I tucked lilies in my hair.

Now I am eighty years a temple dweller.

What a wonder of faith! they proclaim. Truth is,

I cry in the dark. I beg priests for bread

and pick insects from my hem. But today,

an infant came to be blessed. He curled

into the crook of my arm, and when his eyes

wandered to mine, I remembered every hope

stored in my childhood’s heart: gazelles

and henna shrubs, doves perched in the crags.

I touched his face—

that skin we were meant to wear forever.

*         *          *

Widows of Jerusalem, this is what I know.

You are not dying. You are falling slowly

into another world, where bread will grow

from a thousand fragrant fields; where lilies

will clothe you in sunrisen petals;

where everyone will call you beloved child again.

VI. Simeon

As a boy, I lay awake

at night, jealous of the stars

that rose over my roof

and climbed into the lap of God.

They whispered to him,

and he whispered back.

He loved their cool blue devotion.

I prayed as the moon

traveled, as the night birds

sang in the cedars.

He is the Rock.

His works are perfect.

Upright and just is he.

But at sunrise, I always

felt alone. Perhaps

I didn’t pray long enough.

Perhaps my words

got trapped in the rafters.

Now I am old. Ah, bed,

receive these heavy bones.

I have seen my salvation.

I close my eyes, and warmth

spreads through my skin

like the laying on of hands.

Go ahead and rise, stars.

Whisper about the origins

of the universe, your secret,

holy fires.  Tonight I will remember

the child I held to my chest.

I will pull my cloak to my face

and drift in the sweetness of milk.


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