Les Santons de Noël

It was still November.
A child was born,
my brother.
Since my father’s
culinary repertoire
was slim, my mother,
in preparation for her stay
at la maternité,
had already deposited me
with her friend, a mother
whose children,
teenagers in lycée,
no longer believed in miracles.

One day, my mother’s friend
took my hand, and walked me
through Marseille’s twisting alleys,
to a church. Here
we descended a steep staircase,
dark as a cave entrance.
Even so, light reflected
off the glass partition
between the stairwell
and the display,
whose mysterious contents
lay shrouded in mystery.

Then my mother’s friend
removed a franc
from her purse
and deposited it neatly
into a machine
like a parking meter.
As she turned a lever,
I observed a miracle:
Lights flashed on
like angels appearing in the sky.
A mechanical whirr
accompanied the lights,
like the buzzing or humming
of a spring.

I was credulous,
trusting as a peasant,
as I saw the miniature fishmonger,
the carpenter,
the water bearer—
whose water never spilled,
the chimney sweep—
whose chimney dust
was painted on with a fine brush,
all treading lightly
toward the crèche,
bearing their gifts,
the fruit of their labor.

Even now, I find myself
depositing prayers
like coins,
as if to turn a lever,
expectant
of a miracle.

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