The mise-en-scène’s well-known enough:
dumb animals, a little trough,
labourers standing around, extras;
the mother, still a child herself; her baffled husband.
They’re all a bit rough. Even the hay
Isn’t as soft as in the stories. The baby lies
centre stage, a blind mouse in a nest,
in rags that are less than picturesque.
This pageant isn’t the usual production.
To begin with it’s me playing every part: somebody
has to do it. I’m the guy with an old pitchfork,
thinking how do I know when it’s my line; I’m the boy
with a crook, stage right; I’m the sheep,
the infant, the crone in the cardboard doorway;
and for tonight’s performance I’ve added
some new action, as it seems the child needs help.
Enter from above, with a commotion,
ignoring the slackmouthed villagers who can’t
cope with even the simplest miracle, or detour:
me. Pay them no mind! If it weren’t for them
I wouldn’t need to be here in the first place.
I nod to the young lady, aka myself, and place
my carpetbag on the cow-shit-covered stage,
I mean floor, under lights too bright as ever.
A murmur goes through the crowd – appreciation,
but there’s news afoot, and suddenly it’s hard
to stop an improv guy rushing on – and I’m not him –
from the wings, in wings. He brings
bad tidings from afar,
something intense about innocents, or incense,
but the manager, that’s me, puts him off.
It’s Christmas! I snap, sotto voce. We’re on.
Whatever it is it’ll wait. I know this: the wind
always changes. I flash a smile at my girl
and organise some things, a blanket for baby,
toss some grain to the cows
to encourage a little gentle seasonal lowing.
With a click of the clasp of the bag I plunge
my arm in up to the elbow, a real pro,
and pull out a small tree – a conifer –
native to a thousand miles from here and lit
with strings of lights and baubles
glittering gold, hot-pink, orange, silver…
rocking horse, nutcracker, tinfoil bells,
snowmen, robots, robins, angels,
a stripy knitted stocking, a plastic french horn,
a Mexican wise man dripping strips of tinsel.
Next, some presents, of course. A rocking horse,
some socks, a box he can play in when he’s older,
a pipe for dad, some perfume for his mother.
So there’s the scene. Ideally, nothing happens.
We have a baby, a mother, a tree, some sheep;
The messenger’s gone, the extras stand beside.
I have succeeded. Whatever comes, the child
has had his Christmas. We settle gently onto place,
freeze into a tableau, and rest. Flakes fall.
The crowd ripples into applause. As I
break free and float up past the gods I see
three critics nodding at the back,
rummaging for pencils and jotting notes,
in turbans striped like candy canes. Offstage,
a sound of bells, laughter. I click my heels
three times against the end of my umbrella.
Adeste Fidelis, says its camel-head.