Bethlehem, USA, December 2020 It was a busy night. We admitted 15. There are no beds anywhere, and everyone went to his own town to register. We admitted one young Covid-positive mother with pre-eclampsia to labor & delivery, and she wrapped him in cloths and placed him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the inn. There are flight delays due to weather. It was 6 degrees Fahrenheit last night. It was a busy night, and there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night. We’re worried about our patients in tents. With the winds and snow, tents are quite stressed. But the Ursid meteor shower lit up the night, and suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying, “Peace to men on whom his favor rests.” Before we air-lift patients to the University, we need to call ahead to see if they meet criteria, so Joseph went to Bethlehem the town of David, because he belonged to the house and line of David. The broken door to the ER lets in the cold and damp. But Mary treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart. It’s cold. There is no room anywhere. Cars arriving for drive-through testing idle before dawn as they queue and create a bottleneck for ambulances, but the shepherds said to one another, “Let’s go to Bethlehem to see this thing, which the Lord has told us about.” It was a busy night. Snow fell and dusted the trees as if it were just another Christmas. Foot traffic is heavy, and sidewalk’s paisley patterns announce winter’s austere hours: So they hurried off and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby, who was lying in the manger. Even though there are no open beds remaining, we might still find a way to accommodate one more. All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had said through the prophet. “The virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel”—which means, “God with us.”
The gods took note. Everything recorded or sung on Mount Olympus was whispered first below. A child on a mother’s knee heard it first. During the Spring of womanhood, the mother was Ceres. Her child was a dangerous spinning top for whom she risked Hades, ready to stop time in its tracks. In Summer, the second season, Cassandra emerged. She knew all and had seen all. Under sails that flapped like gulls’ wings, her eyes pierced storm clouds and saw destruction. She knew Ceres was wrong, That no one can stop time. The halting of time in winter is an illusion. Even Atlas knows the world spins on his shoulders. Then with the arrival of Fall, the woman, like Calypso, held to all she loved until, like ocean water, it slipped between her fingers, like leaves from the trees, or the loves she lost. Winter was Penelope’s season. Though not a goddess, she knew above the rest that anything of value is worth the wait.
Radical faith returns to the root of love. Radical love returns to the root of change. Radical change returns to the root of hope, which is the unfolding of the wild rose, whose stem and whose thorn break trampled leaf-litter to bud, drawing from dirt, fragrance, whose rippled sheets of overlapping petals stow away pollen, that outlasts the storm.
Even the grass is not the shepherd’s
but for the sheep.
The catnip lies in wait for the stray cat.
The dry riverbed’s sole purpose
is to channel rain.
Surely the housewife who said,
“Hunger is the best sauce”
draws us close.
Thirst longs to be quenched
like earth before the monsoon.
At the crossroads of ocean currents and trade winds,
like a sail that fills with wind.
Our purpose, apparently,
is to receive:
draw in air
the wildflower’s roots
who take nothing
but receive all.
Even my ears—
are stationed on earth
to hearken to bird song
chiming at the feeder,
You shuffle between midnight piano melody and this crazy deep-down wail like hummingbird’s double harmony: whose only axe is flight, whose wings beat faster than a child’s pinwheel, who repurposes thread of spiderweb to sew a nest, who transposes snare to song.
“Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world.”
–William Butler Yeats
Each morning one winter
I rose to claw and scrape
ice thick as orange rind
from my windshield.
Then, driving east,
I watched theatrical colors
light up the hogbacks.
While gloved hand gripped
the steering wheel, my mind
fashioned lines of poetry.
But poems slipped away like ice
melting down sunlit stems.
According to an article I read once,
the gold-tinged hogbacks on the horizon
are radioactive. Earth’s uplift
brings to surface and releases
stored radiation. Hike to see
the cliffrose buds explode into blossom:
On one branch, you count five petals,
but on another you may find clusters
of nine petals, or thirteen.
I’d like to believe that life cycles on without changing
much. The frost-heavy windshield, a display of Belgian lace,
same thread, new designs. But even as we stand
the ground beneath our feet lurches
What was hidden comes to light:
As if seated in our midst, the unknown—
an uninvited guest—explosive as a landmine,
charges and ignites.
Even the broken bark
of the alligator juniper
holds together somehow
thanks to the sap
coursing in its veins.
Fragmented into a thousand pieces
the first casualty was my focus—
Once rainwater filled a water table, then
Froze: a thick layer of ice floated above the cold water,
All of a piece. When children lifted the disc
From its confinement,
It shattered into countless pieces.
Though I’ve heard the grasshopper has a thousand eyes,
And does quite well.
Between miracle and doubt,
between the words of faith healers
and the stoicism of rationalists
there’s a sweet spot—
the stars in the sky
that never stop shining
even when obscured by cloud or smog—
Behold the seeds
that spread their wings,
that travel on my boot,
that hibernate for years
until the rain and warmth of sun
Between a rock and a hard place,
cactus bears fruit,
hummingbirds take flight,
and the bee ensconces itself
on the shoulder of her lover,
Hoofprints of mule deer
crisscross narrow canyon corridors
where rain only accentuates
the cliffrose’s musk.
And though I’ve witnessed
my share of marvels,
still I crave more.
In the vastness of the universe
You are a speck of dust
From which light reflects.
You are also the eye of the needle
Through which God slips
Like thread to spin
The vast reaches of the galaxies
And stars whose dust you are.