It was winter.
The wind blew from the plain.
And the infant was cold
In the cave in the slope of a hill.
The breath of an ox
Warmed him. The livestock
Stood in the cave.
A warm mist drifted over the manger.
Having shaken hay-dust
And grains of millet off their sheepskins,
Shepherds stared sheepishly
From a cliff into the midnight distance.
Far off were a snow-covered field,
A graveyard, gravestones, fences,
A cart’s shafts in the snow drift,
And, above the graveyard a star-filled sky.
And, nearby, unseen until then,
More humble than an oil-lamp
In a hut’s window, a star
Glimmered over the road to Bethlehem.
It blazed like a haystack, apart
From heaven and God.
Like a reflection of arson,
Like a farmstead or a threshing floor in flames.
It towered like a burning rick
Of hay or straw
In the midst of a universe.
Alarmed by this new star.
A growing glow, red above the star,
Was portending something,
And three astrologers hastened
To the call of that unprecedented night.
Behind them trod gift-laden camels;
Harnessed donkeys, each smaller than the one
In front, were going down the hill in little steps.
And all that was to come later
Sprang up far off like a strange vision.
All thoughts of the ages, all dreams, all worlds,
All the future of galleries and museums,
All pranks of fairies, all works of magicians.
All fir trees on earth, all dreams of children.
All the tremor of lighted candles, festoons,
All the splendor of colored tinsel…..
…. Even more cruel and furious, the wind blew from the field…..
…. All the apples, all the gold glass globes.
Part of the pond was hidden by alder trees,
But, through the rooks’ nests and treetops,
Part of it was seen quite well from here.
The shepherds could make out clearly
The donkeys and camels plodding along the mill-pond.
– Let’s go with everyone and worship the miracle,
They said, closing their coats around them.
Shuffling about in the snow made them warm.
Tracks of bare feet, like sheets of mica,
Let over the bright meadow and behind the hovel.
Sheep dogs growled in the stars light
At the tracks, as at the flame of a candle’s stub.
The winter night resembled a fairy tale,
And someone from the snow-covered mountain range
Was constantly mingling, unseen, with the rest.
The dogs wandered, looked back with caution,
And sensed danger, and pressed close to the herdsboy.
Along the same road, through the same land,
Several angels walked with the throng,
Their incorporeality made them invisible,
But each of their steps left a footprint.
A horde of men stood around the rock.
Day was breaking. The trunks of the cedars showed.
– Who are you? Mary asked them.
– We’re a shepherd tribe and envoys from heaven;
We came to sing praises to both of you.
– You cannot all go in. Wait outside.
In the haze before dawn, gray as ashes,
The drovers and the shepherds stamped about.
Those who came on foot bickered with riders.
By a log hollowed out for a trough
Camels brayed, donkeys kicked.
Day was breaking. The dawn
Swept the last stars, bits of ashes, from the sky.
Of the vast rabble, Mary allowed
Only the Magi to enter the cleft in the rock.
He slept, all luminous, in the oak manger,
Like a moonbeam in the hollow of a tree.
Instead of sheepskin, he was warmed
By lips of a donkey and the nostrils of an ox.
They stood in the shadow, as in the dusk of a barn;
They whispered, groping for words.
Suddenly, in the dark, one touched another
To move him a bit to the left of the manger,
And the other turned: From the threshold, like a guest,
The Christmas star was looking at the Maiden.
I’m not much for organized religion, I think the God of the Universe is far to magnificent to be marginalized by denomination, cultural ideology or dogmatic politicians. However, regardless of your faith – let’s not forget the reason for the season.
Allow the spirit that resides in all of us to be renewed this holiday season.
I wish you peace, joy and renewal.
Open Our Eyes