The ice that grips the curb is white,
With wavy snakes of gray-black stains.
It glints in noon's uncertain light
Made glassy hard in melting rains.
Rain raps the air conditioner
Set on my sill, but there is no
Premonitory, onward stir
Of tidings, no herald, in this slow
Recurrence, insensate pace
Of nature's inhuman patience.
This day before Christmas we face
No true unease; no reticence
Inhibits our routine. We cock
No ear to register a pitch
Above the titter of the clock,
No eye to fix on hues too rich
To bear without ecstatic cry
Of rude bliss or antiquated
Dusty prance beneath the night sky.
What coming, now, is awaited?
All mastery that we have wrung
From surd, ungenerous matter,
A mute Universe; all veils flung
From nature's face; the chatter
Of chance decoded, entered now
In man's book; the far high fire
Won from Olympus, so none now bow
to Zeus, but take what we require:
And yet, we purchase no release
From ritual propitiation:
No shaman moved by shame to cease
From preaching, no frank concession
To reason's beneficence,
No voices chorus glory
To man. The priests cry penance
To all who tasted of the Tree.
Their choir would raise the eye from Earth
But not the knee; tonight we sing
In missa solemnis the birth
That has excused everything.
The lone first summons of a chime,
Inquiring, is joined, as bells toll
Across the urban village time
In centuries, in sounds that roll
Unhurried, full, as asking who
Will dare forestall the hallowed hour?
This scroll is old and only new
Your gift of sight from Power
That bent in Bethlehem to lift
The fallen children, as fathers should,
Dry tears, and pledge the gift
Awaiting all who would be good.
And so we keened through centuries
To tear soul loose: the flesh burned,
The Earth shed as slipped skin frees
The snake. In hope's fever, we yearned
From Earth--assured of legion dead
By famine, plague, and war. We hastened,
All grave formulas recited,
To where the tears of children end.
Come take the crooked cobbled streets
With shopper, beggar, churchgoer;
Let us greet as the prophet greets,
Even the footpad, lush, and whore.
We bring you tidings of delight,
You shall unbend the aching knee;
The Earth is yours by maker's right;
The sky is silent, you are free.
Unrobed, our text and voices
Vulgar, let us say: Reason can own
No stain: each with your choices,
Artisan of your soul, is alone.
Should the superior smile and pass,
As by a friend inconvenient
To greet, too prone to embarrass
A marriage grown silent;
And should the faithful just retract
The mind into faith’s calcic shell;
And you and I tonight attract
A sole still face, yet we shall tell
Glad news: “We do not come to give
The gift of glory. In the end,
Man’s glory is to choose to live—
But don’t take that on faith, my friend.”
First published in Think, Vol. II, Issue 1, Spring 2009.