You’ve gone AWOL and only Jesus can bring you back, not this poem that I began with the lie that we can overhear your laughter, not hubris or tears and rain. You are an ocean who’s left the nest of earth I thought you’d promised not to. The sky who folded up your blue tent and took off.
What remained, they packed off to flame. Before the day we sat to make your legend in the church, I could almost feel your curious, dare- devil spirit peel itself from the wall of death like a cartoon character and bop out to explore. So tell me what you learned. Is it possible to breathe astral, heavenly air?
And tell me. Was it worth it?— all that sturm und drang you pitched against our brother Death who’d rather work in secret—swelling, hemorrhage, collision of blood cells, collusion over charts, snarled traffic of the body, roads under construction, accident, the rampage of doctors to prevent the clever kleptomaniac from winning as long as possible. He could only steal your body. Which I miss, it’s true, oh god, true. The screen door you banged every afternoon, now silent.
Her house was a three year old’s drawing of a house—two windows on the second floor with two below to flank the door. On the porch a pair of supermarket tube and webbing chairs in case a guest or two dropped by plus one where she could lean way back, a coverlet across her knees when fall was in the air or she felt ill.
The shades she always kept exactly so, the ones above just low enough to hide her on her way to bed, the ones below up high to let some daylight in. Now that the house is empty as a drum, they’re every whichway like an old drunk’s stare, and somebody’s pinched the supermarket chairs.
Sweet Jesus, forgive me all the days I spotted her in one of them and slunk behind the trees across the street. A caller on her porch for all to see she would have rated with her trip to England on a plane, or winning first prize for her grapenut pie, or the day that she retired from the Inn and they gave her a purple orchid on a pin.
Or having some boy ask her to dance, or being voted president of her class, or some spring morning with her room all warm and sunlit waking up in Spencer Tracy’s arms.
It was not meant as exclusionary, the way the boy laid his arm along the pew, not touching her back but cupping the bowl of his hand over the girl’s shoulder, exactly the way his father encircled his mother in decorous Sunday embrace.
Near in age and adoring, his forsaken younger sister saw the story of all Eve’s children, an enacted parable of man leaving father and mother to cling to wife, heard Scylla and Charybdis’ seductive hymn, felt the tension of two great loves, perceived in a piercing moment ties tighter than the bonds of blood.
When I was young, Christmas wasn’t very much— a balsam culled from the edge of a field, colored balls in a tattered box, durable strings of colored lights, glorious music in local churches, long, slow winter hours.
Now that I am four fifths old, Christmas is so very much, so bought and sold in Christian bulk, carols slammed down secular streets— bad or worse in slipshod churches. What sea or landfill’s deep enough to hold the glitter-smash of all these broken ornaments?
. . . Who are you again?
I was a wise man, literate in stars.
Ancient and uneasy in America, wrapped in swaddling robes, wheel-chaired, parked beneath denatured swags of falsely berried nevergreen, I miss austerity. I miss desert travel.
I miss the naive Christmases when, four fifths young in my frugal father’s house, I wrote my hopes on a battered desk in a shadowy hall upstairs— the ceiling high and cold with draft on dragging winter evenings when there was no entertainment but my mind unentertained, yet knowledge of approaching holiday. Once I dreamed that I worked all night, forgetting— then woke in the downstairs room as warm as womb: the tree of light.
But most of all, I miss how every modest Christmas morning, disappointment in the presents faded quietly and wisely, gone by breakfast even for us children.
. . . but—who are you again?
Melchior, come back in another searching time.
Searching for what?
The light from the star that just now is arriving.
The astrologer? One of the three? Why here?
Too much room at the Christian Inn. And who would look for a Magus here among this wreckage of untreasured age and unmined memory? Herod is alive and well and killing babes for no reason at all. This is the manger of 2005 and the hay is eating the oxen.
I do not understand you.
What is it in this saturated, satiated anti-Midas age of yours that everything you touch, once gold, turns lead! Even the holy babe we found is new-born, yes! again this year, but four fifths dead.
Wait! Don’t wheel away—! Listen— Listen. I’ll tell you what I still can see on late-in-Advent evenings in my clearest memory: the true Nativity– my faithful father’s glowing tree reflected in the tall black window panes of living room, the colored lights imposed on bare and frozen trees outside, and that was it—the lead-to-golden bough, like Gabriel’s who imposed on Mary’s how.
Like Christmas then on Christmas now.
Believe I do reject the artificial tree and heart of modern Christmas “season”—
Are there any more like you?
Two or three in beds and halls and cattle stalls on every floor.
Will you take back one Christmas night, one Christmas morning, only, for your use? Will you refuse cartoonish “power” pointed songs of praise (follow the bouncing ball) projected in what used to be a sacred space, and wait for writing by the hand on temple wall Can we agree?
Will you come with me? Though I seem to nod in this cushioned chair in the cushioned space of used-to-mean, let word go forth in Herod’s time again: we are at odds with the even powers and will report to no one what we’ve seen.
We’ll secret the strains of ancient songs of love bereft and hope long gone, safe in heart, secure in mind, singing the news between mourn and morn: —for two or three of us old kings he is still born.
Phenomenology, a cruel creed, Preaches its faith in omnipresent ways: “One world alone” is all the creed we need, Empiricism controls all our ways. And so we build our barns and get and store, Laughing at those who sing noumenal songs, Ignoring those who say, “No, there is more,” Scorning an ethic built on “Right” and “Wrong.” In stark contrast, the Galilean Jew, Who used his stories to affirm his creed, Out-Kanting Kant on what we ought to do, Sounded a warning every person needs: “Do not forget, you fool, all bills come due, This night your soul will be required of you.”*