Truth be told, we forgot all about the axe.
Busy with our landscaping and renovations, we
neglected our gardens, all tangles of weeds
and fruit trees budding nothing while we poisoned the soil.
No surprise to find that it should come to this,
the moment of reckoning when our garden would judge.
Yet we were golden and glimmering,
felt eternal for too long.
The ending was never a flicker of thought,
the last things were the last things
on our minds.
When the cry comes out – Prepare the way! –
are we found listening, heeding or tending to
our own private laneways, our private gains?
If I am to hear Him when He should appear
and if my feet will be swift and fleet,
I must jettison all
that I hold yet holds me, and
throw off the loves that so easily entangle,
ready to run at the sound of His steps.
They shall not live who have not tasted death.
They only sing who are struck dumb by God.
(Joyce Kilmer, “Poets”)
And so Zechariah became one of the poets,
hymning the God of Israel with new voice,
for those who have most wept will most rejoice,
while others full of grace who did not know it
could never pen a hymn if life depended.
Grace rarely makes such strict demands of us;
the sweetest song can fall without a fuss
straight on a childless priest, his life upended
with the hope of joy, while the one with seven sons
goes home to richest blessing without song.
The one struck dumb will pen an epic long
before the the news can reach the minstrel’s ear,
and grace will always find alert the ones
who’ve lost their voice and now have ears to hear.
Hospital room. While my uncle and I tried
to tend to my grandmother’s needs, we heard
behind the curtain divider
a granddaughter and grandson discuss
and how the west has avoided death
while the east (both fresh from travel) takes
the wiser path, rubbing
face and hands in body ash
and staring death’s immanence in the eyes.
“What a drain on public money,” they decried,
to describe their grandmother’s dying days.
I fetched pillows and poured water into
polystyrene cups (she never drank from those
when she had a choice)
and tried to stare my last enemy down.
Where is your victory? Where’s your sting?
All I could muster as prayer was, Come.
We always move around and so
fittingly our Christmas is mobile,
each returning to their homes, like Joseph
and a heavily expectant Mary, carrying
the hope of the world in her womb.
We depart carrying gifts in shopping bags
or catch up on forgotten things at airport stores.
And when we arrive: reunion, but
no birth, Messiah forgotten where we left Him
and hope still swirling at the baggage carousels.
O Lord, restore us deaf and blind,
Unclose our lips tho’ dumb.
(Christina Rossetti, “Advent”)
At my desk, while
a quiet internal road ebbed
and flowed with the business traffic
of the common afternoon,
kicked up dust from the gravel carpark
and tossed hair
into plaintive matts, and threw
clothes into disarray
on computer screen a chiselled Christ
embed an Auschwitz prison wall
and mothers cried to Him, How long?
before I resumed my chores.
My heart is weak and does not long;
I chisel comfort on my wall.
O Christ who pleads as mankind bleeds:
make me long. How long?
And what have we done?
The year will pass regardless, yet
opportunity arises now to ask
if our deeds have sown death or life,
has sprouted from our dying deeds.
Dying, however my breath may deceive,
I must ask if my hands have turned to tend
my own grave, or a garden; if my steps have bent
towards the straight, or the bent,
roads towards our inevitable death.
With clenched fist or cross taken, all of us walk
towards a year that, one year, will not renew.
And so in these dying, flowering
let the last things be our first things
as we tend our new year.