A Birthday Card Poem #2
By Jane Tawel
“Cold hands equal a warm heart,” Mama used to say.
I wonder if her hands feel as cold as mine do,
Nailed above my hanging head,
I keep thinking about the beginning.
Oh! The stars!
And I –almost human,
Barely just alive,
And all the people smiling, cooing, touching, weeping with joy.
Caught up in a contagion of hope and love, they were, back there
On that night.
Now, this day,
Now, only she weeps,
And not with joy.
And the rest of them laugh, or run away,
staying back as far as possible
From my almost corpse.
Afraid to be caught up in the contagion of death
As I hang here, barely still human.
The beginning was glorious.
They say babies can’t remember their birth,
But some of us can.
The wood of the stall where I began this life,
Felt nothing like this wood.
This wood, so unnaturally shaped (no tree could grow like this),
This wood, my arms and legs are splayed upon,
is splintered, rotting, rough;
Worth nothing but the fire after I hang here on it today.
Contaminated by death, it will be
No longer of any use to anyone, after this day.
Just as I will be, no longer useful,
After this day.
People think a baby isn’t born to be useful,
But I was.
I was born to be of Good use;
Like a tree planted by streams of water,
Yielding fruit in season.
There, in Bethlehem,
Exhausted as they were from days of rough travel
Anxiety and fear making Joseph sweat and Mary weep
In pain, from journeying by kings’ decrees.
In pain, as Jews have always been.
Will always be.
In pain as I am, here, on this cross.
By the time they arrived there
Was no room.
Oh, I remember.
Though now, I am blinded with agony
and delirious, perhaps from loss of blood,
I can see perfectly, in my mind’s eye,
My birth had spent my mother—body and soul,
She was weak from loss of blood there,
As I am here,
Our loss of blood like two parentheses enfolding my life.
She was so tired…
So very, very tired we were sometimes….
Until she could barely hold me to her breast.
Joseph, with strong hands, made feeble by my birth,
gently snuggled me down into the hay.
Some babies do remember;
We really do.
Like a baby bird made safe in my new nest,
I looked for the first time upon this world,
A world of trees, and stars, and faces;
And all seemed, back there,
Exactly as it seems to me today at the end:
The world is all so very new and as very, very old
as all Newborns know
The world to be.
The wooden trough where my parents nestled my infant form,
was as soft as silk
From years of animal tongues, licking, honing, softening
Until not a splinter remained.
There, the wood was as lush and sweet-smelling and soft
As a king’s cradle.
My fledgling family baptized that wood
With my birth pangs.
That trough was anointed by shepherds and sheep
By kings and sages.
Who will anoint the cradle my body dies on today?
We had to flee that place,
Jews always do eventually.
But I like to imagine that wooden manger
Is still there today,
A cradle where I was first loved,
Where I first loved.
Wood, if properly cared for
Can be useful forever.
Trees, even in death, have long lives,
Eternal, one might say.
I know that as well
As any Master Carpenter should.
My earthly father, Joseph,
Taught me all about wood.
I think about that manger
feeding the sheep again.
And suddenly, dying here now
I feel I might join in
The laughter of the crowd below.
They would think me as more insane than they already do,
The crazy “King of the Jews”,
but I Am
Secretly thinking about the irony,
Of the parentheses of my life;
The parenthesis of two wooden instruments,
One of life,
One of death,
Bracketing my life
Like wooden signposts
Yes, perhaps I have just enough faith to think that—
Just enough words to tell them all, that–
both the wood of my cradle
And the wood of this cross
Are useful tools,
Are instruments of life,
Are places where human babies are safe,
The strange parentheses of my cradle and cross,
Will have no end.
The wooden brackets that surround my name,
Will lead people forward.
( ( ( ( ( ( ( ( ( ( (
When I was There,
I was already Here,
Going like a lamb from
Trough to slaughter.
The final bracket remains unknown
On the other side, Over There.
But I am not laughing, No,
Yes, I am crying instead;
Not so much from the pain,
Though it is almost more than I can bear;
Not so much from looking at my mother’s face,
Ravaged with sorrow,
Or from gazing weakly
At the few unlikely friends weeping there,
Those few who risk their lives to
Watch me die.
for the wood
this earthly rood.
This tree I die on here,
Will never be useful again,
This tree too, dies with me today;
And it seems the whole world of creation,
Weeps with sorrow for the tree, once a sapling,
that dies here today; and for the
Son of Man
“My soul is consumed with sorrow, to the point of death!
Like a sheep before its shearers I am silent,
I cannot open my mouth.
My soul is offered up as guilt offering,
And I will never see my offspring,
I can no longer prolong my life,
It is finished.”
But almost as I end my life here,
the still small voice,
Of My Father,
who awaits me There,
“Oh, My Son, this tree, too
Will feed the sheep.
And You, My Child,
Will be with Me, Here,
Feeding Your offspring
At your own breast
As your mother once fed you.
You My Son,
Will live to have many babies,
Reborn because You
Cradled them here today.”
(So, because of my mother’s willingness to serve My Father
I, her child, was born.
And because of my willingness to serve My Father,
My own children will be re-born.)
I embrace this wooden cross,
As once that wooden cradle embraced me,
My first breath, began the struggle.
My final breath is a fight to give it all up.
I can just make out the words—
Like whispers hovering over the void
Of the world–
Is it memory, dream or present reality?
The words I hear now,
as my mother and My Father coo me to sleep,
As my mother and My Father gently sing,
“There, there. There, there, my Child. There, there.”