HER MAKER'S MAKER
Michael Symmons Roberts
From speed of light, to feet
of clay, wings outstretched
to slow him - at first I took
that bird for Gabriel come back,
but no. It was a great white stork,
a refugee, sweeping over lakes
of wheat and barley. On fertile
slopes it broke from flight
to pick a viper from the soil,
to dodge its lash and curl,
to win the fight in silence.
We took this as a sign for us,
its fellow migrants. Days we ride
towards the house of bread,
to Bethlehem. The boy I carry twists
and shifts like a fish
who has outgrown the ocean.
He grinds against my bones,
his feet kick at my ribs so hard
he almost breaks my heart.
At night, I wake up in the cold
beneath the open sky. He is still.
I lie awake in terror that I've let
him down, lost him in the darkness.
I listen to the wolves cry
at the shepherds' distant fires,
I wait until at last I feel him move,
my agony, my Lord, my love.
He is still my flesh and blood,
though he is not my secret.
Milk weeps from me when he cries,
he watches me for hours,
my quiet witness, wide-eyed
for the first time in his world.
I show him all we made of his
creation, colours of injustice:
women slaving in the fields to cut
the flax, to steal the ice-blue beauty
of its flowers, the oil pressed
from its yellow seeds,
strong fibres teased out
of its stalks, so rich high priests
and kings can drape in
robes of lustrous purple linen.
We took him to the temple
to give thanks. We bought two turtle
doves as offerings. No shame:
we cannot afford a lamb.
On our journey home, a woman
gave to us a sheet of linen:
"New-made for a king", she said,
"a cloak, a net, a sail, a shroud."
At first a fluttering
then a kick,
his fist pummelling my ribcage
when I knelt to pray.
They sent me away,
my belly burgeoning
shame on his name,
his eyes looking right through me.
Amazed, he took me back.
he'd seen him too
but best not mention it in company.
I sang then,
that were poetry
inventing themselves on my tongue.
The riots and the cold
you know about.
Let me tell you
nothing prepares you
for that O
cracking your pelvis,
his fists flailing in air
as if from nowhere,
of an angel.
They say I said nothing
but treasured these things in my
Pain overruled my throat
and hasn't stopped since.
None of us gives birth
I was no one's favourite girl
BETHLEHEM, EASTER, 2002
Pádraig Ó Tuama
Arrived, in a dark
pitching, two thousand and
two wintertimes ago.
Warmed by animal heat
and the nighttime sweat of
his exhausted mother
surrounded by angels,
singing peace and pleasure
to all who follow,
while timid shepherds bring
kind gifts - a lamb, a reassurance -
a gentle prophecy for
long years ahead.
And now, huddled in
the hidden corners
of nativity's cathedral
lie fighting men
and praying men,
warmed by each others' blood
and the nighttime sweat
of tired vigilance.
They are surrounded
by the keepers of Zion.
and those unseen.
And their harmony together
is found in rounds of fire
and resistance of each other.
Today, I saw a white clothed nun
scurry like a frightened animal
past a greek cloaked tank.
Her prayers, I'm sure,
are ones for safety for two troubled
for quiet ambles round Monday
for stars of promise to
shine again in Bethlehem.
CHRISTMAS ON THE EDGE
Christmas sets the centre on the
The edge of town, out-buildings of
The fringe of empire, far from
And power, on the edge and outer
Of turning worlds, a margin of small
That edge a galaxy itself light years
From some unguessed-at cosmic
Christmas sets the centre at the
And from this day our world is re-aligned;
A tiny seed unfolding in the womb
Becomes the source from which we
And flower into being. We are
The End begins, the tomb becomes
For now in him all things are
They sought to soar into the skies,
Those classic gods of high renown,
For lofty pride aspires to rise,
But you came down.
You dropped down from the mountains sheer,
Forsook the eagle for the dove,
The other Gods demanded fear,
But you gave love.
Where chiseled marble seemed to
Their abstract and perfected form,
Compassion brought you to your knees,
Your blood was warm.
They called for blood in sacrifice,
Their victims on an altar bled,
When no one else could pay the
You died instead.
They towered above our mortal
Dismissed this restless flesh with
Aloof from birth and death and
But you were born.
Born to these burdens, borne by all
Born with us all 'astride the grave,'
Weak, to be with us when we fall,
And strong to save.
A farmer, reached for his carving
shaping from yew the cast list of
shepherds and three wise men with
a donkey, parked camel, and a spare
that had wandered out of the night,
and into history.
Three became one in the centre of
the father in a sort of teaching gown,
Edwardian hairstyle, more of an
than expert with chisels that the
He shields his wife with downward
arms, before cock-crow.
And she's intent; whole world a pool
of a face
just visible in the shielding folds of
still part of her. Her face softened
of whom this child could be, and
where he might
travel and gather others with his
Her quiet recognition of his secret.
Still visitors come; lords, shepherds
others who watch to see if the
or note how varnish enhances the
flow of a cloak,
how a knot forms scab to blemish a
reminder of the miles, burden and
Dark mark on a crown, going home
by a different route.
Wild grain's disclosed in this typical
lunch stop for fieldfares, redwings
to the southern side of winter. Planed shoulders are
muscles varnished in opened arms
offering a casket;
a wondering face, puckered to a
reflects in the teardrop portrait of
Scene's set in straw, on sacking.
Slatted wall's North,
thin shielding from a January in
open to the south's thin, winter
light. Brief flames
from candles lit as prayers list from
yet animate each yew face, reflect
Poets in print
The Singing Bowl by Malcolm Guite, Canterbury Press,
Bookshop £9.90); Martyn Halsall wrote "Yew Tree"
as Poet in Residence at Carlisle Cathedral; Sorry for Your
Troubles by Pádraig Ó Tuama, Canterbury Press, £9.99
(£9); Drysalter by Michael Symmons Roberts,
Jonathan Cape, £12 (£10.80); "Her Maker's Maker" first
appeared in a limited-edition pamphlet from Phoenix Press;
Riddance by Anthony Wilson, Worple Press, £10.