Wednesday, December 07, 2005


Once we had three wise men, wandering across
deserts looking for a baby. In our time we
have three Herod's. George H.W. Bush, who
began the Gulf War and the sanctions against
Iraq that were to follow; William Jefferson
Clinton, whose Secretary of State declared
that 500,000 dead children in Iraq as the
result of those sanctions was "an acceptable
price to pay for them;" and George W. Bush who
continues the killing and maiming of children
without apparent conscience or revulsion.

Looking back after 40 years, here's the way
Melchior, one of those "wise" men, remembered
that trip.

A.D. 40

It wasn't just that we had a cold coming.
No. Cold was the least of it.

You ask what I remember,
what do I see looking back?

Babies mostly.
No, not that baby... those others.
They twitch and kick in my mind.

And sometimes statesmen.
I dream of the greatness
those babies might have been.

Christ, what a time that was.
and what a place,
when we finally found it.

Ungodly place for a birth.
Appropriate, perhaps,
for one who would call himself
the Son of Man
but filthy all the same
animals everywhere and the
whole barn reeking. Manure
and blood, sweat and birth
and no clean place to put a kid;
the folks so broke, only rotten
rags to wrap him in.

But it was all right
I suppose. We got there.

And he was the one, you know,
no doubt of that.

Some called us wise but they
did not really know. I know
we weren't as smart as we thought.
But it was a cynical time - no one
really believed, not even
in his own wisdom
let alone anyone's in public life.

Perhaps there was a kind of wisdom
at that, just to see a god
in all that crap, find him
in all that mob.

Of course we were a little uncertain
ourselves... No doubt in my mind
you know, but Caspar
and his damned portents
and his myrrh.
What a thing to give a child!
He's so strong on symbols and
the family desperate for a little bread;
we had to make excuse
and go outside to argue on it.
Whether he was the one,
whether we should leave the stuff
we'd brought.

Even if we were wrong, I said,
let's leave it. No doubt they could
use it anyhow. The trip wasn't easy,
time was strung out, so were we;
we had to get back.
Leave it, I said.

I thought his folks
could sell it you know,
have a bit of relief
for a while at least.
But no, they kept it.
Someone said his mother
used the myrrh -- later you know.

He wasn't that way.
One time a woman used
expensive oil to bathe his feet;
he thought the gesture really cool,
didn't complain about the waste,
using money better. Being poor
he knew the poor are always there.

He did turn out wise though.
Except in politics. Came on too strong
for the temper of those times and courts,
got strung up.

Oh, he made some changes, true.
Not enough. How much remains
to be seen, of course, but I'm too old
to know the final outcome.

Maybe it was a crazy trip. Maybe
Caspar was right and we just blew all
that effort and left our gifts
in the wrong place.

But I'll never believe that.
Besides, you know, none of that
seems important anymore.

I'm an old man
plagued by babies and mothers
and booted men
falling on innocence in the dark.

We were such fools,
playing against Herod a game
we never understood. We thought
being closed-mouthed was wise,
though we dreamed up answers
for all his insane questions.

How were we to know? God.
All those children, just babies -
and those sounds in the night -
Rachel weeping for her children...

No doubt men, being men,
will in future find even more
efficient ways to treat the young.

But we couldn't have been wrong
about him. Not at that price,
no. He was the one.
And that trip was worth it, you know?