Thursday, December 4, 2008

Keeping our Advent Watch with a Nativity Scene

I've decided to occasionally post my poems here, especially if they fit with the liturgical season or anything else I'm writing about. I've had nativity scenes on the brain, since they start to appear right now, and they often inspire controversy: do we allow them in civic spaces? Do we include the baby Jesus before Christmas? Do we allow children to be creative with them?

Through the years, I've heard of unusual additions to home nativity scenes, and I decided to combine all the possibilities I could think of into one poem, which is below. This poem comes from my chapbook, Whistling Past the Graveyard.

My current nativity scene has lost some key figures through the years. We've managed to keep track of Jesus, Mary, and Joseph, probably because they're glued into the stable. We're down to one shepherd and a camel--no wise men to go with the camel, no angels in sight. That's probably a poem right there!

We do have a plastic, purple monkey that our friend John put in the nativity scene years ago. It's a tiny, flat monkey with a scooped hand that came from a game where you try to pick up other plastic monkeys to make a chain. I know that some people might see it as disrespectful (and they shouldn't read the poem below), but now, most of my decorations have some memory of beloved friends and families attached to them, and I like decorating and remembering.

Plus, I think that if the Gospels teach us anything, it's that God will be found in the most unlikely places and attract all sorts of attention. People will follow who you would never expect to find in the company of God. That purple, plastic monkey can be a symbol of the tax collectors/prostitutes/social outcasts that Jesus invited to dinner.

Anyway, here's the poem:

Nativity Scene

Through the years, the stable attracted
the odds and ends of our childhood toys:
a plastic soldier, his rifle chewed and mangled,
migrated from the war zone;
a horse, which once helped herd
plastic animals, now riderless and alone;
a Magic 8 ball with murky
water, the answers to our questions, obscured;
a nutcracker dressed in festive finery, but missing
its lower jaw, its mission in life undone;
lonely Barbie, hair shorn from too many experiments,
now loveless and forlorn;
a matchbox car, once prized, now missing
a wheel and limping along;
a Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle doll with other refugees
from popular shows of past years;
a gingerbread boy gamepiece, knowing he belongs elsewhere,
neglecting his duties in Candyland, so compelling
is the baby in the manger.

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