A Christmas Play

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.



Filed under Christmas, poetry

2 responses to “A Christmas Play

  1. elizamel

    You always did a wonderful Christmas -still much missed at Number 39. But my tree’s still up and you can come visit any time and eat lebkuchen with coffee. And we’ve got a great cardboard crib with the loo-roll people and cotton wool snow…It isnt less happy now; just that as we progress through life, the true, terrible poignancy of every birth becomes clearer: joy, yes, but instantly tinged with pain and sorrow. Mary pondered all these things in her heart…Next year maybe you would like to accompany me on a tour of RC cribs to complete the Christmas spirit? We went to a preview of The Princess and the Frog (fabulous) at the Odeon in Camden Town, and managed to include a (pricy) visit to Gap next door, pasta in a delightful 1960’s caff, and finally an impromptu Epiphany visit to the Shrine of Our Lady of Hal and its glorious nativity scene. It’s on my list for 2010. Happy New Year!

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