Childhood (After Peter Steele’s “Star Man”)

For those who follow the church calendar, we are now in the season of Epiphany, the brief time between Christmas and Lent. Peter Steele’s cycle of poems “Rounding a Year”, deals nicely with this season, especially the strange in-between period where Jesus has been born but is not yet approaching the Cross. I’ve used today’s poem, a response to part of Steele’s work, to reflect on this stage of Jesus’ life.

Childhood (After "Star Man")

Strange as it must have been to grow as a child
   in the world which was his child, he grew,
we're told, and "became strong", "filled with wisdom":
   street-wise, perhaps, the way a kid has to be,
with all of these Romans around, yet wise also
   about the lines and shades of truth,
the textures of the soul, the contours of the earth,
   wise to know a true word when spoken,
being himself the Word. The Magi knew
   true wisdom when they saw it, but Herod
      would stumble on wisdom like a rock.
Yes, his father taught him which nail to use,
   how to use this chisel to shape this space,
how to manipulate the sternness of stone -
   yet those lessons were scarcely needed,
symbols, perhaps, of how low he had come,
   that he should take advice from a man
whom he himself had formed and shaped like clay.
   If he grew in wisdom and knowledge, perhaps
it was more like a waking than a learning - that
   moment of remembrance after a dream,
      the knowing assertion of light into a tomb.

Star Man - Peter Steele

What did they tell him about the early days?
   The infants taken out, the scramble
across a border, another sojourn in Egypt,
   the being strangers in a strange land,
anxiety as something gnawed like bread -
   was that the story? And what became
of all the star-talk they'd heard from camel drivers
  and their curious masters, who fished in bags
for the dulled flaming of gold, for smoky gum,
  for myrrh to mask mortality, while
     the child dozed as he needed?

Grown, a day's work done, the tools consigned
  to peace and shavings, he'd stroll and gaze
at the many nail-heads fixing a darkened fabric,
  the well-made world above him. And knew
as little as that vast array of siblings,
  hacks and drudges, who comb us all
towards coherence. Thumbs in his belt, he watched,
  but not to see the spill of fires
from whose old dust we're beckoned out to be,
  much less to think, as some would say,
     that in him all was made.

(From Peter Steele, The Gossip and the Wine, 2010, John Leonard Press)

2 thoughts on “Childhood (After Peter Steele’s “Star Man”)

  1. I find your poem very easy and comforting to read: another amazing job, and a true gift to your readers.

    However, the poem you used as a template was a bit harder to understand. I think I either don’t understand the last few lines “And knew as little as” — or, I just cannot agree with them. What kind of God “does not know . . .” ? I have just come to expect that Jesus was fully aware of everything around Him, and as God experienced it to a much richer, greater degree than any of us could have. I realize that as a man living in time and space, he didn’t have time to know it all, especially things he didn’t need to know for daily life. But to think of Jesus as not knowing, or being as functionally ignorant as the rest of us while he lived in a the world he had made and chosen to know as a human being. Well, that just doesn’t make sense to me.

    Anyway, you have done another amazing job.

    Feel free to let us know when your finished book is finally ready for our purchase!

    1. Thanks for that! I think I agree with you about those lines in the original poem. I had a similar thought. I tried to present my own perspective in the last few lines of my poem. Luke does say that Jesus grew in wisdom, so there must have been development in His understanding of who He was and what He was called to do. But I agree that He could not have been ignorant – certainly not as ignorant as we are. But it’s probably one of the more complex questions of the Incarnation. Thanks for your thoughts, and glad you liked my poem!

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