This one was backwards to begin with.
A breech birth, signifying greatness and
Disdain towards it. A star blazing
That odd, pre-natal horoscope.
Herod promised to fund our research.
He seemed kind, though peer review
Has since indicated doubt.
Our book, the heavens, spoke in riddles.
Light that shone through darkness.
A new king, his dreadful fate
Embraced, somehow. We went together,
To meet a future we could not predict.
And what we found in Bethlehem—
I tremble now, remembering our arrival.
A rough town crammed for a reckoning,
Rome’s men everywhere, the place
Rank, and full of lost strangers.
No place, no peace for a royal confinement.
But there, off a back street,
By the cheapest inn, we found our prince.
It was all strange. If I had not been there,
I would have said it was too perfect:
The lean-to so compendious,
As if everything had been planned that way.
I tell you, I am used to teasing futures out
Reluctantly, with calipers and logarithmic tables,
But here, attending a family for whom
‘Expecting’ seemed a cruel joke,
It all cohered: the herdsmen kneeling
By the beasts, the mother beached
The other side of tears, a father
Watching, slightly sidelined by events.
The drift of laughter from the bar —
Nothing here but the animals, wood,
A touch of blood. The child wrapped
For death already, wound in his white
Martyr-cloth. Quite silent.
We could not speak the dark future
We had glimpsed, not to these glowing faces
Kneeling in joy around a child
Who watched with old eyes, unblinking.
The other guests stood back.
The mother smiled. We knelt, awkwardly,
Embarrassed to unwrap our cargo:
We got the gifts all wrong.
As if born knowing how a myth
Behaves, he laughed at only one.
Gold dazzled him, he turned away.
The incense stung his nose to run.
Only the sobriety of myrrh, its clay
Box cracking slightly at the base,
Brought a chuckle so out of place
It silenced all us three—
We foresaw torment, borne with grace,
But had not anticipated glee.
An old poem of mine, which I revisited over Christmas. The last week of the season seemed a good moment to post this equivocal meditation on epiphany.