All this was a long time ago, I remember,
And I would do it again, but set down
This set down
This: were we led all that way for Birth or Death?
There was a Birth, certainly
We had evidence and no doubt. I had seen birth and death,
But had thought they were different; this Birth was
Hard and bitter agony for us, like Death, our death.
–T.S. Eliot, Journey of the Magi
This winter is the slowest crawl to rebirth I’ve ever seen.
And I’ve seen a lot.
There are fewer upsides when you face a cold without snow,
Like a life without sin, wrenched open in a backwards
backwoods morality tale.
We lift and carry only ourselves in these places;
No wild anointing oils
there are no plants that grow
They’ve all been shut down, like in a Springsteen
You die, we die, God dies
a belly full of rum and frankincense
cancer chewing on your own bile.
as if it was a hymn beloved by
But if you crawl back to your own foreign place,
like a bloody version of Yeats’ beast
yearning for poppies or poems about poppies
or good wages stolen by poppies
If you crawl back
across the hard ground
your own aches enough to upset you
Don’t pretend it shocks you
to not recognize a thing
because no one sees you either.
I was thinking about “Journey of the Magi” today. I often conflate its ending with Yeats’ “The Second Coming.” I wanted to play around with that conflation,and pull out the darkness of each poem a bit more. This one is ugly, which is why I imagined snowless winter, and pulled some pretty bitter images (cancer, dying industrial towns, veterans returning, heroin). It’s a look at the Epiphany, I suppose, stripped of its wonder. Eliot lets his racism and anxiety through in a line or two, so why shouldn’t I be that honest? Anyway, blessed Advent to all y’all.