I. The Inn
Torchlights singe the late night air and the kicked-up dust glows on the path to the inn. A man in a brown robe leads the donkey, each step measured. His wife, wrapped in a wool shawl, stays the autumn chill. For a moment, she must stop, grips the nape of the donkey’s neck, and winces, as before, bracing for the next contraction. He steadies her, wonders if Mary’s okay. She relaxes her hold and smiles, but the harvest moon glinting off her eyes belies her calm assurance. As sure as ebb and flow, the next wave of pain cannot be quelled—her hands pressing her belly as if to stem the tide. Joseph’s feet, no longer downtrodden by fatigue, rush him to the inn. He raps on the oaken door as if his fists were made of brass. But his own would have him not. Go Away! A gruff voice rumbles through the wood. There are no more rooms. Those words echo in the desperate air with Mary’s cries. Yet, there is a shuffle of shoes. A clenched-jaw voice on the other side of the door seeps through, Jacob. Let them in! The innkeeper’s eyes wedge, Yes, Eliana. She stokes the fire, pots clacking on the coals. Water boils. He shows them to the straw-crib behind the house, where the sheep lay.
II: The Temple
Palm straw, mimosa boughs and Jerusalem pines—cut and blessed for the great harvest. Chants usher from inside the holy place to the outside air thick with sense of sacredness. The high priest raises a knife and slays the perfect lamb. Blood pools in a stone cup. With a hyssop branch, he splatters blood on the scapegoat laden with the sins of the world. It is sent out into the wilderness, and forgotten. The sky cracks with a blinding light as if a great deluge was about to burst. But there is no rain, only whispers in the air and the crackle of shimmering light. The moon smiles through high cirrus tinted carmine, ribbon’d green, flashed with gold from the sun nestled deep below the horizon. And there is peace in the silent air.
III: The Palace
Herod paces the marble floor, stepping on signs of the sky—an ancient zodiac inked into the tiles—with the animals and many serpents. He stops on the head of the lion; his robe flows, swishing stars painted there. Rage burns in his eyes. He demands his court astrologers to explain the bright flash that diamonds the sky and the veil of colors that drape the town of Bethlehem to the south. But Sire, surely a favorable sign from the gods, for Augustus Caesar… for you! Herod’s face relaxes, taught muscles ease; his eyes, glassy in the torchlight. Behind him hangs a tapestry of hammered gold. It catches the light. As if snake-charmed, each flicker writhes as a worm. Herod simply gloats.
IV: The Fields
Jerusalem grass shines purple under the twilight moon, and the sheep’s gray shapes melt into the dark. A shepherd deftly moves his fingers over holes of an olivewood flute, and a psalm wisps heavenward. God approves and opens the curtained sky exposing all its stars. A singular light flashes brighter than the moon. Sheer rainbows silk the night. Celestial choirs trumpet, ethereal voices swirl with the stars and sing. The baby boy crowns. Cries ring among the hills; whisper in the hearts of men. And the shepherds run to him with hope.
Previously published in The Hellroaring Review, 2012
Image credit: aurora (stock) and nativity scene (pngtree).