“Not too many poets has it been given…to live one of their own poems.” (G.K. Chesterton, St Francis of Assisi)
If I would be Francis, troubadour to God, before I can sing Creation’s canticles, I must tend to the sleeping children in my room and die again, again to the self that craves to be higher than them. Only then can poetry shine, until then being only words.
and the laundry, piled up in crevices and corridors as though to say, “You can hide me, but you cannot do without me.” Toys underfoot and books scattered wide amongst other toddler treasures: a measuring cup, a rooster, a brochure considered la mode before some other fancy flitted through the growing mind. Some things are permanent, like dishes, some new – an Amen! after grace. Unsettled nights and teary mornings only serve to say that all this may pass, but God it is good that it finds me at all.
Today is perhaps the hardest day of the Christmas season, the day that remembers the story found in Matthew 2 of Herod ordering the murder of all boys under the age of 2. While this is not an aspect of the Christmas story that is often told, it finds a home in an old and melancholy song, the Coventry Carol (beautifully rendered here by the sublime Anúna). The carol, part of a medieval mystery play once regularly performed in Coventry, gives voice to three mothers who are mourning the children they will lose. Today’s poem considers these women and the promise that Jesus the Messiah would be acquainted with our griefs. It’s a story I would rather pass over, with my son only eleven weeks old as I write, but God does not pass over our deepest griefs, so I want to use this story to remind me of the fact that He hears and knows and is present in all that we cannot understand.
Come, little child,
born to die,
born to bear our griefs and die,
born to dwell with us who die,
weep with mothers now.
come dwell with us within our mess,
come hold our scars and cry our tears.
Weep with us all now.
Come, light in dark,
keep vigil now with broken hearts.
Hold all our tears within your scars
and hold us as we shake.
Not expectant last year, we met
the season with a kind of still gratitude,
quiet in the truth that what had been
had been, and was not now,
grateful for months of frozen meals
and flowers (grief and surgery have these in common),
and hopeful that the next year must
be better at least than the one soon past.
How small our hopes. This year we find
the season catch us unawares while we
play catch-up on laundry and give our days
to calming two ever-opening eyes
and settle a mind eager to consume the world.
How quickly all this opens. Even
our almond tree from last year’s spring
already bears a handful of fruit
and life will run ahead of us now,
able to walk while we dazed ones still blink.
Nothing stays still very long…
Yet there’s a baby bursting in the midst of things,
catching our sleepless summer unawares.
Even now, when an eye-blink has transfigured our house,
even now our expectation’s small.
If I, He says, can do such a miracle as this and made it easy work, how much more after the labor of the world?
The Antarctic wakes us with its morning missive blowing.
Swaddled and bubbling, children shiver across the road.
Crossing guard, I open my smile,
bouncing frozen legs to warm them.
To cross the road like a child, I
must race and look not to the side.
What winter brings will soon be known;
the sun still shares the sky.