Tuesday, December 4, 2012

December 4

...It was the usual tedious family gathering,
Descending on our house that census year.
My grandma cooked the roast that we all hate,
Aunt Deb made latkes; Saba called me dear
And pinched my cheeks; old Uncle'd put on weight,
His son-in-law had gotten even thinner.
   At last we all sat down, and then through dinner
Endured my second cousin's endless blathering
Of Caesar and the Senate, and my mother's
Incessant bustling.
                                      Beka and my brothers
Sat round the stove, entranced by Uncle's tales
Of heroes, mighty kings, angelic glories,
Bloodthirsty giants, prophet-eating whales;
(Sure, once I also loved to hear his stories --
But at a certain age you can't ignore
That all the heroes nowadays are gone;
And there's no talking donkeys in our stable.)
   But, finally sitting at the adult table,
I found it dull; and forcing back a yawn
Looked out the window just in time to spy a
Disruptive shepherd gang dash by our door
Hooting and hollering about some new Messiah.

   "We've found him!" came the shouts. "He's here, in town!"
Tobias sprang up quickly. "Let's go see!"
My father, the strict rabbi, gave a frown,
And Mother shook her head. "I just don't think
That heading out this late's a good idea."
While, "Never trust a shepherd," sniffed Aunt Leah;
"They're thieves, and they're unclean -- besides, they stink!"
Then, cynical as always, my dear cousin
Remarked that talk came cheap; and these pretend
Messiahs a denarius a dozen.
…But even Father's said the world might end
Quite soon; if so, I had to watch at least.
It was, at any rate, good for a lark;
   So, as my mother cleared away the feast,
Deb made tea and the men went off to drink,
I nodded quickly to the other three;
Old storytelling Uncle gave a wink
And we slipped out into the early dark.

   The air was crisp, the moonless sky was black --
No shepherds, or Messiah, were in sight.
Tobias strode ahead; I waved him back
Just as the whole disreputable band
Came tearing round a corner from the right;
They stopped dead in their tracks, as did Tobias.
I felt Rebekah tightly squeeze my hand,
And Dan pulled close to me at their approach.
I was the first one, awkwardly, to broach
The point. "You saw -- the chosen one of God?"
   There were some mutterings, and a hostile stare.
One ragtag shepherd boy began to nod;
Then, as he met an older one's swift glare,
"The angel said -- tell everyone you meet."
   At last the leader shrugged. "Just down the street.
We're heading there -- you might as well come follow."
I saw Rebekah give a nervous swallow,
And Tob glanced down in search of ammunition,
As one by one the scruffy youths pushed by us;
And we walked on in mutual suspicion.

"In here." The leader nudged me, quickly pointing;
The others trailed behind in single file.
The air was chill, the stable walls were thin.
A woman glanced up with a weary smile
And led us to an infant lying in...
A trough. (I had expected some grand throne.)
   Our nation's savior -- this small babe, asleep?
My cousin had been right; how disappointing.
I sighed and, shrugging, motioned to the others.
"That's it, then -- guess we'll head on back to Mother's."
And saw their eyes grow wide; turned round to find
The child awake -- and as I met his gaze,
Time slowed…then stopped.
                                                      ...Like one who has been blind
First staring in the starry heavens deep
I felt the little world that I had known
Fall shattered, burst asunder by sheer awe --
And for an age I stood, my mind ablaze,
Stunned by the timeless wonder that I saw.

   And knew…but how to put it into words?
Just this: the ancient times had never ceased;
And here, yes, here amid the bleating herds,
The low thatched huts and rising curls of smoke,
The tales began anew, and God still spoke:
To us. -- No, not through warrior king or priest,
In blood or battle, trumpet blast or flame --
But in a newborn infant's gentle face.
   The world was ending? Just its childhood years
Of strife and turmoil, as a new time came:
Our age, and we its heroes, called to fight
The clinging webs of ancient feuds and fears
Dividing us: by birth and blood and race,
Poor, wealthy, farmer, shepherd, old or young.
   And countless tribes in distant unknown lands
Would tell in awe and wonder of this night,
In tongues not born and songs still to be sung:
Songs of a child, and shepherds -- and of me.
   In awe, then, mingled with humility,
We went forth from the stable, clasping hands
Who had arrived distrustful, now as one:
And there was something new beneath the sun.

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