As we spoke she laid a hand on
Her small round belly
Holding a secret, or a pain
And I thought of coiled intestines
And how they say that a surgeon's nightmare
Is to try to pack them in, once out;
And I thought of children in secret spaces
Growing in the dark, listening
To the rushing lubb dupp of the heart.
Love moves oddly, as one grows older;
It sidles, slips sideways, and turns;
It no longer washes in like a tide,
And out, leaving ruin behind it.
Instead it pools and eddies,
No longer demanding and requiring,
It inquires and remands. It is a love
Of questions, not of answers.
Here belongs a catalog. If all poems,
As one said, are love poems, now I should make note
Of how she listens intently,
Staring hard, with her lips parted,
Like a child's; or how
She gathers a shawl about herself
Prefiguring an old woman
Of an efficient and matter-of-fact sort,
And I would mention a certain black skirt,
And hair brushed forward at the temples.
But all that, though real enough,
Belongs to the tides. It is not
What we are here to celebrate.
We are not even here to celebrate
Ingrained kindness, or care,
Or constancy. We are here
To warm a house.
First the Magi bring cinnamon
And Persian spices without names
Ever named in the West;
St Nicholas brings a tea-set
With an intricate silver creamer
And a bowl, and sugar spoons;
Ananda brings lotuses
That blossom on the water,
And a wish-fulfilling jewel.
Milarepa grins and contributes
A nettle pot, before vanishing
(He never stays long, you know),
An elderly poet brings a sword
To keep upstairs, and another brings
A bow of burning gold;
I am gone with broom before
To sweep the dust behind the door.
The gift of speech was stolen from me
By a malevolent fairy, at my christening
Who doomed me to mumbling;
The gift of appropriate gifts has never been mine.
Decorum is a painful lesson, half learned
And readily forgotten;
But one gift I have always retained,
Overlooked in the general rout, and that
Is the gift of offering blessings. And so:
A blessing on the windows, of seeing,
A blessing on the stove, of warming,
A blessing on the floor, of standing,
A blessing on the door, of opening,
A blessing on the roof, of sheltering,
A blessing on the walls, of holding.
The oldest of pieties is that naming calls;
I name this Faith's House, these four walls.