Tuesday, January 5, 2016

Poem for Epiphany Eve: Flights of the Family

I'm always interested the stories that we tell year after year--especially by what parts leap out at me in any given year.  It changes from year to year.

In this year of the largest mass migration since the end of World War II, perhaps it is not surprising that it is the flight of the Holy Family to Egypt that keeps beckoning to me this year. 

Of course, as I look back through my notebooks, I find that I've been inspired by this part of the story before.  There are gaps in the Gospel story where my imagination rushes in.  Jesus escapes Herod's murderous intentions.  Herod's actions turn the family into refugees as they flee to Egypt.  The story picks up later, in Nazareth, with Jesus grown.

Two years ago, I was reading T. S. Eliot and Coleridge and had some fun imagining what might have happened in this gap.  I wrote this poem.

To read the Eliot poem that inspired it all, or better yet, to hear Eliot read it, go here.  Instead of talking in the voice of the magi, I'm channeling Mary here.  Or is it Christ's voice?  As I was writing it, I was thinking Mary.  If I was a literary scholar, I could make the case for Christ or for Joseph, or for any number of political refugees.  I never have Central American refugees too far from my brain, and I see some images from our current dramas in the poem too.

Here's my take on it all.

Flights of the Family

                    “A cold coming we had of it,
                      Just the worst time of the year
                      For a journey, and such a long journey”

                                        “Journey of the Magi” by T. S. Eliot

A cold coming we had of it,
the desert floor like an abandoned
sea bed, the cactus hobbling
our efforts, a murderous dictator behind
us, uncertainty ahead, only vague
warnings by an angel to serve as a guide.

We moved by night with a foreign sky
stretched above us, all celestial navigation
useless.  We detoured around hostile
cities and dirty villages, angels singing
their songs to hurry us forward.
A hard time we had of it.

We stayed several summers amidst the alien
people clutching their gods.  We learned
new ways of foretelling the future
in that temperate valley smelling of vegetation.

But we had to return to the kingdom of Death,
that old dispensation.  I have seen birth
and death, so much death, the nails,
the pieces of silver, the thirty betrayals
that come before every daybreak.
I would be glad of another birth.

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