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Holiday Poems

Our local paper has been publishing specially commissioned poems by local writers. This has been a real treat this week, and I particularly liked these ones by Patrick Lane and Lorna Crozier.




Patrick Lane, Special to Times Colonist
Published: Thursday, December 28, 2006

Thinking about Christmas and wondering

why you've never written one,

a Christmas poem, you mean, something

about birth and death, something

about stables and animals, the soft smell

of cattle in winter, the bloom of steam

rising from their horns, and chickens,

surely there'd be chickens there, roosting,

quiet, even the rooster though he'd have an eye

on the sun coming, that first light breaking

over the hills, and a birth, yes, a baby, sure,

and you wonder at that, remembering

the time you, only twenty, a first-aid-man

in a milltown, delivered a baby up north,

that slipperiness, the shout the baby gave

when he took in a whole world with his breath,

that kind of miracle, though death

wasn't the first thing in your mind

like that birth in the stable in the story

you were told when you were little,

a holy child, and which now you almost never

think of because you know it's only a story,

a myth really, something made up to keep

small children happy, and adults worried,

and anyway it's been written

about a hundred thousand times,

a million sentimental poems about Christmas

and you swore a long time ago

you would never go that way, but still

there was a birth and there was a child

and even if the stable was a wishfulness

with its animals and birds, its goats and pigs,

its chickens and horses, the hay laid down

and a blanket hung to keep out the cold

because it gets cold at Christmas, even

in the desert, and a woman, yes,

there had to be a mother who took up

the child to her breast and fed him, and

a father too, a little afraid, a little unsure

of what to do, helpless like men are

at ordinary miracles, like you were

up north, that baby sliding out of the woman

and you holding it for a moment, the woman

saying, so soft you almost didn't hear

her quiet, Give him to me, and you did

and you sat there beside her and said nothing

only watched that small face pressed against her,

young as you were, and you were young then,

saying nothing, the blood on your hands

her blood, not his, a dust-red, drying

in the air and then her looking at you with

something in her face you didn't understand

not then, not now, her tears without crying,

and the quiet in her after such a birth, her

so poor she wouldn't go out to a doctor

and instead chose you, and what it has to do

with Christmas, you don't know, but it does

somehow because of her look and the child

and the blood on your hands, and the night,

and everything so quiet in that room, and

not knowing if what you've written is enough

or whether it's even about Christmas,

but it's as close as you can get to it, her look

and the baby lying there, quiet, and the years.




MIDNIGHT WATCH

At midnight on Christmas Eve, it is said,

the animals in the barn will kneel:

the grey horse with spotted haunches,

the two pygmy goats on their mountain of bales,

the old duck with one lame foot, and all the dogs

you've ever known, who'll become this night

one dog -- thick, black coat and a blaze down his nose;

in the barn, it is said, the animals will kneel.

What you need is faith, something you've had

little of all your life. What you need is

the stubborn, singular belief

that if you pull on your coat and boots

and walk to the barn in the steady rain or snow,

if you drag the chopping block to the window

and peer inside, the animals will be on their knees,

their breath a wreath of fog around their heads.

Only the cat will sit on the straw outside their circle,

one ear turned to the others, one towards you,

as if she's on watch, as if she's meant to give a warning.

Or perhaps she'll be there, halfway between

the animals and you, so you won't feel unblessed

in your strange human skin, so you won't feel alone,

peering into a darkness you can't see through,

somewhere a star coldly shining.

The latter will appeal particularly to cat lovers.

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