Over-Painted Nativity

The paint on the canvas of tradition

has cracked with age, pigments dim from

centuries of fervent faithful sighing beneath

the image in a fog of candle smoke, each

certain the tender scene is as it was:

tidy corner in a tiny barn strewn with hay

warmed by the weary donkey and a modest

cow nodding near the shining child nested

between kneeling parents, his nimbus

throwing sparks above their heads.


Yet where dull flecks have fallen bright

pigment reveals a rag-wrapped babe pink

and new waking nursing sleeping in the arms

of a spent girl who had pushed this life into

the trembling hands of her husband.


He’d coaxed her like a lambing ewe, tied

the cord and made the cut, then wound in cloth

the part that followed before he carried away

the blood-slick straw and replaced it with

fresh pulled from beneath the animals.


At the well he drew water, warmed it by the

fire he built in the yard and washed mother and

child who together wore his cloak while he

scrubbed the stains from her dress and the

baby’s wrapper and hung the lot to dry,


hoping for a moment between the washing

and feedings when he might burrow beside her

and rest before the curious came to carry off

visions of what they’d seen, leaving out the

messy, human bits, which included him.


© Dana Hughes 1.22.17