Advent to Candlemas (Vol. 4)

Mary's Child

i. Eve

When Eve turned her face for the last time
To look back at the 'tree of sin',
God thought she had never looked so beautiful,
Even though skins defaced her naked skin.

"Love out of adversity and loss
Is better than the heavenly bland:
They will love me and each other heroically,
Not mindlessly obeying my command.

"A father cannot help naive love;
But I knew that it could not last:
The garden was always too good to be true
Lacking a bright future from a dark past.

"Just one more look my darling daughter,
So that I see you face to face;
From now on we will only see each other's backs,
Until the time of incarnated grace."

ii. The Spirit's Fire

The spring and poise of young flesh
Tenses in sudden radiance,
Fixed like a marble sculpture,
Arrested in a girl's dance.

Her ears swelling with heartbeat,
She hears the voice within her;
How can Zion's Messiah
Be carried by a sinner?

The voice gently caresses
And fills her with desire;
She opens all her senses
And feels the Spirit's fire.

iii. Presents

A walk into the barren hills
Away from harsh tongues whispering;
News of two cousins soon to come;
The herald and the people's king.

A Nazarite and Nazarene,
Remembering how the message came,
- She puts her hands below her breasts -
the outward light, the inward flame.

Her cousin, glowing with new life,
Repeats the words the angel said;
Then Mary sings old Hannah's song,
The poor raised up, the hungry fed.

Bound in God's hope they know their joy
Beyond the confines of their day,
Their bodies' presents to the world,
Their place in sacred history.

iv. Baby Clothes

Fine silk for a saviour,
The fabric of kings,
Bright and soft as butter
As it falls and clings.

Yes, linen is better!
It fits nice and tight
Around a new master
On a Winter's night.

Wool is well enough,
So soft and springy
The very stuff
For a new baby.

Then cotton bindings
Will have to do;
Like funeral windings:
And good day to you!

v. Cold

Snow like a lacen mantle drapes Itself
Upon the shoulders of the ancient town;
Lending a transient beauty to the squalid,
Whitening black as it comes down.

But they who feel its bite know the illusion,
The doubtful elegance for a celebration;
The stable door wedged tight against the chill,
Against the cruel beauty of creation.

The swaddled infant laid within the manger,
His mother huddles in her temperate stuff;
They have no money to provide for Winter
When all their clothing would not be enough.

A cruel gust knifes through the flimsy slats;
The baby, cold and frightened, starts to cry;
His mother gives him all the warmth she has,
A breast, a kiss, her cloak, a lullaby.

vi. Gifts

You might say all gold is the same,
Calibrated by volume and quality;
But I know its nerves, blood and veins,
Its mood swings and subtlety:
Not that bar; there was blood in the mine.
The monarch that I have in mind
Would only want to see it shine
And never trade nor melt nor grind.

Frankincense is more subtle still
As it varies according to tree,
At what height and what slope of the hill:
The priest designated to burn
This offering is one of a kind,
And so we must carefully discern
A fragrance for his cast of mind.

Myrrh is often dismissed as a waste
But no corpse will be rarer than this
Metamorphosing earthly distaste
Into untrammelled heavenly bliss:
For whom? We are sure of the birth
Of a child - all our tables agree -
Who will come down from heaven to earth
And set all of humanity free.

vii. Wizards

Like a magnet in the sky
The star conducts a desperate race:
Climb to pine
Plunge to palm,
Nestling farm,
Barren space.

Like a fever on the ground
The people shout and grasp and curse:
Camels haunched,
Money thrown,
Mistrust sewn
Hard to reverse.

Like a savage lunatic,
Herod simpers, snarls and slides:
"Find the child,
Bring me word.
Double dealing?
How absurd!"

Like a weight endured for years
Cargo slaps the dusty stone:
Gold and myrrh
And frankincense,
Star intense,
Then disappears.

Like a life complete at last,
Wizards' final spells are cast:
The infant king
Future blossom
Rooted past.

viii. Where?

Where is the sword to pierce my heart?
I only hear my baby cry
And what he needs I can supply:
Where is the sword?

Where is the grief that summons tears?
The old man smiles his prophesy
Touching my boy, looking at me:
Where is the suffering?

I know it, like the dead of night.
All that I pray for is a stay,
No hope of sorrow going away;
We only lack the year and day.
I know.

ix. Mary's England

Mary's infant carried high
Over the shingle band
To mellow England;
Through the mist
Jesus Christ
Borne on his muddy way
Through mossy England.

Safe from Herod's murderous bands,
Safe from scarred and cruel hands,
In the dappled, grassy lands
Of melancholy England.

Ah! But woe was the day
Through the thunder and spray
When they went on their way
From lovely England:
For they raised him on high
On a cross there to die
But his last, saving cry
Reached Mary's England.