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