I sit upon this rock to warn the sailors all to keep away, I even sing to them a warning sound – But guaranteed, there’s always some who cannot help but stray, Just to get a better gawp at what they’ve found. They could have sailed on by, as many do, onto a safer bay – Not got distracted till they ran aground. Yet once back in the tavern, you should hear the traps I lay ! It was never fault of theirs they nearly drowned !
Show me a god, any god, before me, And I’ll wrestle him wrath to the ground – I’ll grapple his incorporeal might, I’ll douse his strange and ineffable light. Bring me a god, any god, before me, And I’ll leave him imploded and bound – I’ll haul him before the judgement of Hague, To count for each smiting and censure and plague.
Halfway between the Tube and the office, I pass them each morning, sat on a front-garden wall. I pass them on neither a side street or high street – They watch us commuters, but we barely see them at all.
On always the same wall (perhaps it’s their own wall) – With placards and Bibles, but no blood and brimstone, they sit. I guess they’re a couple, I guess they’re retired, But what do I know ?- we haven’t yet talked, I admit.
For I have no int’rest in what they are selling, Though they’re barely selling, and no-one is buying it seems. But better by far their quiet shop-window Than Loud-Hailer Preacher, who stands by the station and screams.
Angels in the ceiling, salvation in the needles, Organ practice in the air, the bishop looking proud – Gone is the busyness of canons, deans, and beadles, But the locked-up church can once again give welcome to the crowd. Monks used to pray here, monks who ministered the sick – But these days it is nurses who are rolling up the sleeves. So what would Jesus say at their death-defying trick ?, Their communion, regardless what each congregant believes. Would he drive them out, back to their lab’ratories ? Or would he get stuck-in with his newfound clientelle ? Stained-glass in the windows, telling ancient stories – Maybe in a thousand years, they’ll tell this one as well.
Cats crop up in poetry Like they do in neighbours’ kitchens, But when it’s time for serious, They’re nowhere near to pitch in. They haven’t time for heavy metaphor Or mopey musing – And earnest stream-of-consciousness Will send them straight to snoozing. But crack a smile and shake some wit, Or balladeer some derring-do, And lapping up the limericks, Here comes the kitty-crew: Pepperpot and Sootikin, The tyger tyger in the hat, Macavity and Pangur Ban, The owl-loving pussycat, In nurseries and nightclubs, In the scary and absurd, We’re sure to stumble over them Wherever words are purred.
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.”
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 wonder what they’ve 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 ox-cart 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.
I don’t believe in Jesus, and I don’t believe the Virgin Birth – But Lord, you know I’m trying hard to find some faith in Peace on Earth. We’re slowly getting better, but the getting better comes so slow Yet watch the skies each Christmas Day, and finally you’ll see some snow ! So even though I know, oh Lord, that you aren’t even really there, I’ll sing the songs and send the cards, and hope the World is free and fair – And even as we dress the tree, and string the lights, and spark the flame, Let’s wish you Merry Christmas all the same.
I’m sorry, in a sense, that it has come to this, but there you are… Or rather, there you aren’t, you see, and neither was the guiding star. And all those prayers, and all those hymns, and all that guilt we sent your way Have only stopped a single war, and only for a single day. Best not to hope in baby-gods, or mistletoe, or helper elves – Looks like we’re on our own, oh Lord – for God helps those who help themselves ! Yet even as we make mistakes, and even as we take the blame, We’ll wish you Merry Christmas all the same.
I don’t believe in Jesus, and I don’t believe the Virgin Birth – But Lord, a hundred thousand other babes are born tonight on Earth. I don’t believe in miracles, I don’t believe in prophesies – But Lord, I long for peace tonight, regardless of philosophies. So even though I know, oh Lord, that you aren’t even really there, I thought I ought to let you know, and thought I ought to let you care – And even though I don’t believe that baby Jesus ever came, I’ll wish you Merry Christmas all the same.
On winter days, in wood and dene, I love to see your leaves of green, And hang a sprig, a magic shoot, And kiss beneath your poison fruit. The glory of the mistletoe, When perched aloft and laced with snow – Your roots in wood, and never loam, But on whose bough have you made home ?
This noble tree, of age and might, Now after winter’s longest night, Is verdant still, revered with awe, As hope for yet the coming thaw. So stands this tree in frozen earth, Yet evergreen, to herald birth. Its sap e’er rising through each limb, A share of which our pest will skim.
And so the shrub upon the branch Brings wine and feast to winter’s blanche. Its prey brings strength, so won’t be killed – Like rings of growth on which to build, And spreads afar across the sea, Till greater yet than e’er the tree – For now our bush has such acclaim It proudly bears a Latin name.
But lo, the mistle buds a shoot That like its host has taken root, With leaching tubers digging in, A diff’rent plant, but of its kin. This child shall conquer half the world With winter blooms of gold unfurled – And incense sweet their bouquets sow, And berries bright with stellar glow.
And yet the saps of long ago Within this parasite still flow So little changed, it simply thieves Then decks them out in diff’rent leaves. So ev’ry living thing must fight Against all predatory blight, For even here, we see the grow Of yet another mistletoe.
But this one’s hued in scarlet bright, With fur and bristles dense and white – And though as yet too small to see Alone, without its parent tree, So still its roots have bitten deep, And spreads its seeds while yet we sleep – In just one night, their airborne ride Shall leave them by each mantel-side.