I felt it, riding through the afternoon— the nights are getting shorter and it’s cold and then the baby shifted in my womb and the innkeeper sent us to his sandy field. I did what I was made to do. And now who knows what else is possible? God’s breath moves against the soft nose of the cow. The moon shines on this shed and on the path where you lean, watching us. Who are you? I am the round yon virgin of your song. You are the sky the light is passing through, and you are the iron moonlight. You’re sweet fresh- smelling hay. You’re Bethlehem, the tall kings. Reach out, release us from this wooden crèche.
He knit him self up, a cable-stitch of skin. Pushed his left eye in its socket, then his right. Cracked the knuckles in his fingers (now so thin!). Raised him self from the dirt and stood up right.
Lazarus, Lazarus, don’t get dizzy. Lazarus, Lazarus, now get busy. Mary’s weeping, Martha’s made a cake, Jesus is calling at the graveyard gate. Your closest cousin, happy you are dead, Eyes Martha’s sheep and Mary’s empty bed.
He licks his lips and wags his muscled tongue. Flexes each foot till the warm blood comes. Turns from the darkness and moves toward the sun. A step. A shamble. A dead-out run.
Each time I visit, my father gives me The things that are sold from weekend driveways— A painting, old golf clubs, assorted books. Before it’s too late, he says, repeating That caution bimonthly for nineteen years Because the Bible says threescore and ten.
But lately, they’ve been practical, these gifts, Things requiring muscle, as if some part Of him might enter me through communion, Transubstantiation happening when I take these things in my hands, receiving His body and blood in the church of work, Believing I will take it through my hands, That forgiveness will follow when I fill His role as oldest, feeling him return In the useful things lifted one morning, The rake and clippers, the shovel and hoe.
Beside the porch, this afternoon, his gifts Are clustered like possibilities raised By numbers—a sickle, a pick, a scythe. “One last thing,” he says, waving me inside Where I imagine vacuum cleaner, broom, A year’s-stiff mop, following his shuffle Until, in his bedroom, he says, “Not these. Just look,” showing me nail file and tweezers, Cuticle scissors, the small implements Of grooming left behind by my mother, What he won’t part with, flexing those scissors With finger and thumb, ready to receive.
So that things contrary to common sense Seem suddenly truth revealed And some unappealing sight Is clearly Imago Dei, devilishly alight As though lit within at core By the very darkness we abhor And symbols of my soul’s best hope are cast As models of betrayal, despair and death; Then, Eve’s fruit tasted and offered to Adam Becomes Mary’s Gift as First Fruit Of a new covenant of pardon And the abandoned Garden Because of Him Becomes the New Jerusalem;
So, let that mind be also in me, The one that takes in my off-stage acts, You know, Those walk-the-walk naked facts, Even my sneaky judas-pacts And transforms them all Into something nothing short of new, Like being born, Like out of any godforsaken Friday Easter morn.
When Toni Morrison taught creative writing at Princeton University, all her students had been told in previous classes to write about what they knew. She said to forget that advice because first, they didn’t know anything yet, and two, she didn’t want to read about their experiences. She told them to imagine people outside their own experience, such as a Mexican waitress in Rio Grande who could barely speak English. It was amazing what these students came up with, Morrison said, when they were given license to imagine something outside their realm of experience (American Theatre, March 10).