The Feast of the Nativity

Struck by the stench of whiskey-soured vagrants
As I pass through the station vestibule
And see their metal carts stuffed full of tattered
And wind-whipped plastic bags, their potted bellies,
It’s hard to accept that we are called to praise.
What shout of joy amid such poverty?
The drained mouth of a flask gapes in its corner.

Not far from here, the body of a girl
Leans over fresh pricked flesh, slumps, then contracts
On the snow-dusted field outside the library.
They’ll find her later, limbs already cold,
While others find starved children in a basement,
The father’s mug shot blank-stared, hollow-cheeked.
After the bang, cries sift up over Mosul.

Advertisement

Remembering some unsated ache, we grow
Indignant that we’re not just called to praise,
But ordered: Every knee must bend to stone
At the sound of his name. O, how can we,
Seeing the withered husks that crowd the camps,
The bulging eyes that peer from scoured sockets,
Because, it seems, there’s nothing to be done?

Because amid the crash of bombs, a wedding
Has taken place inside a broken courtyard.
Because a woman in a wheelchair, legs
Bird-like and folded underneath her lap-robe,
Presses a string of beads in mumbled prayer.
Because a square of butter gives itself
Away in runnels through the mashed potatoes.

My daughter, not yet three, once chanced to run
Into a room where young Dominican
Nuns sat, upright and pale, with faces laughing.
As she rushed past, a sister swept her up
In one great motion of her vast white habit,
Enfolding her, an hour, with placid love
Wherein she rested, object of sweet praise.

Amid impoverishment, a plenitude,
A verdant weight of odd abundance, comes,
Like heavy glass bulbs on a Christmas tree,
Their blue and red and gold hung at the limit
Of metal hooks, the fir’s unruly needles
Bending with the encumbrance; and, beneath,
The ribboned boxes keep their generous counsel.

Yes, all these things present themselves, will cleave
Us with their differences, as if one world
Rebuked the other by its gaudy show.
But no. It is the bared branch that buds green,
The soon-to-be-pierced hand that heals the ear,
The night frost now receives the infant’s cry,
And a poor belly sits down to its feast.

Comments are automatically closed two weeks after an article's initial publication. See our comments policy for more.

Advertisement
More: Christmas

The latest from america

“One of the first things that dictators do is to remove the freedom of the press,” he said.
Gerard O’ConnellMay 18, 2019
The problem is not the priesthood; the problem is clericalism.
James Martin, S.J.May 17, 2019
“Auschwitz. Not long ago. Not far away” at the Museum of Jewish Heritage speaks to the horror of the Holocaust and the courage and determination of its survivors.
Emma Winters May 17, 2019
Anti war demonstrators hold banners as they protest outside Westminster Abbey, as a service to recognize 50 years of continuous deterrent at sea takes place in London on May 3. (AP Photo/Kirsty Wigglesworth)
Senior clerics of the Church of England joined politicians from the nearby Houses of Parliament to give thanks for the United Kingdom’s seaborne nuclear deterrent. A more ill-judged, if not blasphemous, event could hardly be imagined.
David StewartMay 17, 2019