Suburban Spruces

ChristmasTree.16Q.NW.WDC by Elvert Barnes

Suburban Spruces

At the meeting of the streets
And the corners of the road,
So grows an unexpected copse
No seed has ever sowed.
It sprouts up overnight
Like a fungus on the make –
This squatter on the pavement,
Brings the Winter in its wake.
Its trees have all blown over,
And its needles all have shed
To the gutters and the breezes,
Until even these have fled.
Then suddenly one morning
We shall find the corner bare,
Save the grey of frost and concrete
And the chill upon the air.

Euphoric Euphorbia


Euphoric Euphorbia

Come the Twelfth Night and the tinsel comes down –
It’s time to de-decorate, if that’s a verb –
The fairy lights lodged in a box in the loft,
And the tree swiftly shunned to the kerb.
But we always leave the poinsettia,
She’s always the last to go –
We purge the urge to scourge the spurge,
As long as she’s on show.
For maybe a little of Christmas lives on
While her red and her green are in clover –
But after a week, so she’ll wither as well,
And that’s when the season is over.

January the Sixth


January the Sixth

And with that, it is over –
The baubles taken down and packed,
The tinsel and the fairy lights,
The crib stowed with its Israelites,
The cards recycled, tree exiled,
The wilted wreath is rudely sacked.
That time has passed, so let it go –
The year moves on, the snowdrops grow.

The Triumph of the Magi

Journey of the Magi by James Tissot

The Triumph of the Magi

There came then Wise Men from the East
Unto a stable by an inn,
And there amid each lowing beast
Were sheltered weary folk within –
For knelt beside a feeding trough
A man and woman vigil kept,
As on the hay and woollen cloth
A baby lay and softly slept.
The elder Magus then addressed
The object of their noble quest –
Whose sleep was peaceful as the blessed –
And unabashed, the old man wept –

“Behold, sweet babe !  There in your cot
The future of mankind is held –
For you are ev’ry chance we’ve got,
With ev’ry hope and fear excelled.
We begged the heavens for a sign,
And with your birth the gods have smiled –
Yet not for any charms divine,
But virtues many, unbeguiled.
Now all who look upon you see
The future of humanity –
More precious than a deity,
Is each belovèd human child.”

How I Wonder What You Are


How I Wonder What You Are

I spy…well bless my eye,
A comet shot across the sky.
Is this a sign ?  For good or bad ?
Is this how God would toast the lad ?
I know what doubters say:
That comets happen anyway.

I spy…well how ’bout this:
Two planets close enough to kiss.
And sure they’re bright…but bright enough ?
Is that how God announces stuff ?
I know how doubters mock:
Conjunctions happen by the clock.

I spy…hang on…alright,
A supernova bursting bright !
Now those are rare, so what’s that worth ?
And yet…A death to hail a birth ?
I know how doubters sneer:
These things take months to disappear.

I spy…well here’s some more:
A nova ?  Or a meteor ?
I guess…but not the clearest clue –
Is this the best that God can do ?
I know the doubters’ line:
Why not just magic up the sign ?

I spy…I know, I know
A pagan myth that steals the show,
When ev’ry ancient hero born
Was heralded before the morn.
I know what doubters see:
That stars are stars, so let them be.

Before Year Zero

roman jerusalem
A mural of the Cardo in Jerusalem.  Since the street was laid out in Hadrian’s rebuilding of the city in the HE 10130s, it’s a bit late for the poem but you get the idea.  Alas, I have been unable to find out who the artist is.

Before Year Zero

It is, they say, (or so it’s said),
An Age of Wonder in our Time !
An Age of Peace and Plentitude,
Of Reason and Sublime.
A Pax Romana to us all,
To all us tribes who lost the fight –
As vassal states, we’re better fed,
Than ever were through might !
Come, all Romans, and construct
Your forum and your aqueduct !
And set us on the metalled road
To ever greater heights !
So join our bacchanalia,
From Galilee to Greece to Gaul.
And merry Saturnalia to all !

We may not yet be perfect, true,
But hey, we’ve made a cracking start –
We’re all philosophers, these days,
We’re lovers of the art.
How civilised we have become,
How better yet we’ll grow to be:
Two thousand years of peace shall flow,
Where all mankind is free !
We’ve gods to spare, we’ve gods galore,
And ev’ry tribe will bring some more –
And best of all, they’re kept at bay,
To serve humanity.
So join our bacchanalia
And never mind the zealot’s call.
And merry Saturnalia to all !

I am fully aware that our stupidly stupid backwards-counting chronology has no year zero, and I’ve decided I don’t give a toss. Of course, for those of us who prefer the decently-sensible Holocene Calendar, this poem should be called Before Year Ten-Thousand.

Christmas Crackered

Christmas Crackered

A joke designed to make us wince,
A tissue-paper hat that never fits –
We’re all been brainwashed by them since,
As wide-eyed kids, they awed us with their glitz.
And don’t forget the plastic trinket,
Maybe toyed with briefly, then ignored –
But that’s the point, don’t overthink it,
Quick nostalgia hit, and then we’re bored.
A card tricks that has lost its label,
Spinning tops who never get to spin,
They sit forlornly on the table
Till they’re swept up, heading for the bin
Let’s carbon-tax them all to hell –
And call me Scrooge and Humbug all you wish,
Or if you want to snub me, well,
I guess just go play with your curly fish.
Say what ?  I ought to get a grip ?
Alright !, I’ll help you pull one, dry your eyes.
What’s this ?  A giant paper clip ?
Oh wow, I sit corrected – what a prize !

Good News in the Silence of Josephus

The Massacre of the Innocents by Nicolas Poussin

Good News in the Silence of Josephus

Now whether Jesus was or not,
There surely were an infant lot
Who could succumb to Herod’s plot:
Their bodies drawn and quartered.
But where was God to stay these brutes,
And spare His people’s tender fruits,
And never let His nation’s roots
With newborn-blood be watered ?
For what uncaring god divine
Would only spare His royal line ?
His Promised Land – incarnadine,
His folk – unsoned, undaughtered.
Rejoice !  The children never died,
The massacre was not applied –
The priests are wrong – the Bible lied:
The innocents unslaughtered.

At the Sign of “The Manger”

Caravanserai by Francis Hoyland

At the Sign of ‘The Manger’

Innkeeping’s an hon’rable trade,
Whatever they say –
We’re a welcome light at the end-of-day –
We’re a dry roof and roaring fire
That’s safe from the wolf and the bandit’s blade
When legs begin to tire –
And ev’ryone can call us home
Who come from Babylon to Rome,
Or pilgrims to Jerusalem –
You won’t catch us refusing them,
As long as we get paid.
Or caravans from out the East,
Or shepherds after one last feast
Before they spend their weeks upon the hills.
Our stable yard is filled with strangers –
Merchants, rabbis, farmers, rangers –
And the horses, camels, asses
Of the ever-moving masses,
Who seek shelter from the season’s chills.

But last month, after years of this life,
Of seeing it all – I saw a first.
A man leading a donkey bearing his wife
Who was bearing his child –
Poor beast !  I mean, what a load !
She was so big, fit to burst.
I tell you, it fair got me riled, my friend,
To make her travel so close to her end
On such a bumpy road.
And busy too, this time of year,
With wanderers from far and near
All passing through and moving on,
Who all descend upon our rooms –
It’s boomtime for the hostelries,
We’re busier than bees.

So when they banged upon my door,
I knew I hadn’t even got
A patch of floor to offer them –
Not even room to fit a cot.
Now don’t condemn –
When I, my wife and staff, the lot,
Had long since given up our beds
For other needful, weary heads.
And yet…how could we leave them out to rot ?
Maybe they were on the run,
I wondered what they’d done ?  But you know what ?
We still could not, and so instead,
We offered them the cattle shed, for what it’s worth.

The place was red with afterbirth
Before the rising of the sun.
Between the old tun and the ploughs,
She laid the kid upon the hay
That otherwise would feed the cows.
And when we could, we brought a tray
And kept an eye that all was well –
She understood, but truth to tell
We’d fifty other guests to serve each day.
And they were on their way before I knew it,
After just a week or two –
Heading home or onto somewhere new.
I guess I wish them well and all,
And maybe someday years from now
The child will come around to call,
And maybe make it big somehow.
They were the stranger sort of strangers, sure enough,
In all they did,
But still, they didn’t lack for love to pass down to their kid.

Ah well, better air the rooms and see the beds get made,
Then pop down to the well to draw some water.
But don’t you see, an innkeeper’s a good and honest trade ?
Just ask that couple and their newborn daughter.

Carol of the Thousands


Carol of the Thousands

A child is born tonight, this night,
Afar across the sea,
Whose birth shall spark the world alight
To unforeseen degree.
A child is born tonight, this night,
Within a distant land,
Whose birth shall end all ancient rite,
And all we understand.

And a thousand saints shall nurse
And a thousand laws shall spring,
And a thousand tyrants reign,
And a thousand choirs sing,
And a thousand penitents
Sigh a thousand lonely pleas,
As a thousand preachers preach
Of a thousand heresies,
And a thousand wars shall rage,
As a thousand martyrs die,
And a thousand hopes be dashed
As a thousand others fly.

With our pious hearts aflame,
We each and all shall stake a claim,
Invoking but a single name:
A child is born,
You know his name,
A child is born,
You know his name,
A child is born,
You know his name,
And joy or shame,
There’s nothing now shall ever be the same.

A child is born tonight, this night,
Afar from you and I,
Whose birth shall bless and birth shall blight
The lowest to the high.
A child is born tonight, this night,
Within another town,
Whose birth shall bring a holy might,
To challenge ev’ry crown.

And a thousand kings shall curse,
And a thousand laymen pray,
And a thousand goats shall graze
And a thousand sheep shall stray,
And a thousand cripples grasp
For a thousand holy cures,
As a thousand sinners fall
To a thousand tempters’ lures.
And a thousand signs are gleaned
Of a thousand things to come,
As a thousand trumpets bray
And a thousand drummers drum.

With our precious hearts aflame,
We each and all shall spread his fame,
Invoking but a single name:
A child is born,
You know his name,
A child is born,
You know his name,
A child is born,
You know his name,
And joy or shame,
There’s nothing now shall ever be the same.

A child is born tonight, this night,
Afar from what is now,
Whose birth shall calm and birth shall fright
And shake our ev’ry bough.
A child is born tonight, this night,
Within this bitter cold,
Whose birth shall tell and life recite,
And ever hence be told.

And a thousand lords shall leap,
And a thousand ladies dance,
And a thousand pilgrims trek,
And a thousand scribes advance,
And a thousand starving mouths
Beg a thousand crusts of bread,
As a thousand mourners mourn
For a thousand others dead,
And a thousand children born
To a thousand av’rage folk
Are a thousand times instilled
With the thousand words he spoke.

Let our fervent hearts acclaim,
As each and all come join the game,
Invoking but a single name:
A child is born,
You know his name,
A child is born,
You know his name,
A child is born,
You know his name,
And joy or shame,
There’s nothing now shall ever be the same.

I wanted to write something more ambiguous in its religious outlook which could be sung by everyone without frightening the horses. And although it is far from certain that there ever was an actual human (non-miracle working, non-resurrecting) upon which a whole new religion later sprang, if there were then this is his song.