Saturday, December 12, 2009

Sunday Sabbath Poetry: Mary Karr (Advent #1)

With the onset of Advent, I had intended to do a number of posts with Christmas poems or song lyrics, but with the end of the semester and traveling for the holidays, I haven't been able to keep up with the plan. So consider this your late first installment.

I've already shared one poem from Mary Karr in this forum before, but at the time I was running out of town and unable to say much about it. I'm currently working my way through her marvelous collection Sinners Welcome, and cannot say enough about her. Karr is an accomplished and noted poet who converted to Catholicism as an adult; she has a wicked sense of humor, a metaphysical eye, and seems constitutionally unable to use language uninterestingly. Her poem below is part of her "Descending Theology" series, and speaks powerfully to the tangible creatureliness of the child born in Bethlehem.

My own poem afterward is a brief reflection on a line toward the end of her poem. I hope both are a blessing to you in this season of Advent.

[Update: I have taken down poems I am in the process of submitting for publication. I apologize for the confusion and/or inconvenience!]

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Descending Theology: The Nativity

By Mary Karr

She bore no more than other women bore,
but in her belly's globe that desert night the earth's
full burden swayed.
Maybe she held it in her clasped hands as expecting women often do
or monks in prayer. Maybe at the womb's first clutch
she briefly felt that star shine

as a blade point, but uttered no curses.
Then in the stable she writhed and heard
beasts stomp in their stalls,
their tails sweeping side to side
and between contractions, her skin flinched
with the thousand animal itches that plague
a standing beast's sleep.

But in the muted womb-world with its glutinous liquid,
the child knew nothing
of its own fire. (No one ever does, though our names
are said to be writ down before
we come to be.) He came out a sticky grub, flailing
the load of his own limbs

and was bound in cloth, his cheek brushed
with fingertip touch
so his lolling head lurched, and the sloppy mouth
found that first fullness -- her milk
spilled along his throat, while his pure being
flooded her. (Each

feeds the other.) Then he was
left in the grain bin. Some animal muzzle
against his swaddling perhaps breathed him warm
till sleep came pouring that first draught
of death, the one he'd wake from
(as we all do) screaming.

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