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)