Nativity Scene

By KEVIN O’CONNOR
Strange you came onto me at Children’s Mass,
standing in back, minding my unbelief,
as Thomas doubted physical return.

Eyes darting like fish and perfume smelling
of desperation, you must have fantasized
that I would recognize you after years

in the parish Church where we were baptized.
“Come here and touch my breasts,” you said later
as if they were wounds that wanted salving—

and would prove the body’s resurrection,
your mind’s relief. I could only agree
to stay up with you through Christmas Eve

to try and keep your soul from going dark
as you had once watched mine almost flicker out;
so like the cock of dawn who shoos the ghouls

away, I talked all night from memory:
the time it rained for weeks in Vancouver,
without sun or stars for so long I began

to hunger for light and stayed out all night,
then sleepwalked through forty more days of rain:
you and Robert made your home my harbor.

Since those days I had played the prodigal
son, learned to swim the narrow straits of home,
beyond survival in a storm toward grace.

Then even in a flood I could look for others—
confident, afloat between instinct and choice,
either shoring up the banks of self

or diving under—unmoored by any lines
of erotic love or guilty debt—
risking oblivion for someone else.

Noah’s cruise ship did not invite singles,
and with Robert long gone, you had washed up
in the psych ward at St. Vincent’s by New Year’s,

where you sat like a mother in the crèche
absent Baby Jesus; how sad or sweet
that I alone had come to greet and witness.

You could have been Mary nagging her son
to settle down with a nice girl, or I
Saint Peter, denying your meds three times

before an intervention. Sitting on bright
colored cushions in the visitors’ lounge,
having surfaced for air, you seemed becalmed.

Seeing me again as the young man
you had once harbored from the storm,
did you know me as the heedless diver,

not your angel of water-weighted wings
crying for help, who needed to be saved?
Did you feel better being my way toward grace?

 

[Purchase Issue 12 here.]

Kevin O’Connor has recently published poetry in Notre Dame Review, Fulcrum, The Recorder, and Alhambra Poetry Calendar, and he is an editor of One on a Side: An Evening with Seamus Heaney & Robert Frost. He teaches at Phillips Academy in Andover, Massachusetts.

Nativity Scene

Related Posts

textured sand

January 2022 Poetry Feature

MADELEINE MORI
A. and I were both hurt by that cold, hard change, / the snap of my leg bones. / I saw the root in the trail as a swag-bellied dog / with a cape I wanted to support— / both dog and sneaker flying as one. / When they came, Search and Rescue’s tools unbent my pain.

headshot of Elvira Hernandez

Translation: Poems by Elvira Hernández

ELVIRA HERNÁNDEZ
nowhere / anywhere / would poets meet dressed as beacons / if their mirrors were not fogged / if their mirrors were not fogged / they would have seen the mandorla set sail / perhaps at this hour they are filing claims /to recover their lost luggage / agreed: that’s not the teide

blackbird upon a puddle

Translation: Poetry by Esther Ramón

ESTHER RAMÓN
Two of those brief animals / that populated the branches / and the furniture made useless / by humidity and neglect. / They were separated / From time that burns as it passes, / from this insignificance, / from the feeding cycle, / my desires in the shredded remains