Nativity

I come by chance. A train slows in the fog
and stands a while

and, when it leaves, there’s one more soul aboard
sung from the quiet, passing from car to car,
like the angel of God;

or, north of here, in some old lumber town,
the church clock stops, the wind dies in the tgrees

and I lie squalling in a slick of blood
and moonlight, seventh son
of some man’s seventh son.

No gifts for me, no angel in the rafters
caught like a bird in the updraft from the stove,

only the words of an old curse scratched on the wall,
and the warmth of my mother
fading, as lights go out

in house after house, from here
to the edge of the world,

her slack mouth, then the darkness in her eyes
the first thing I see
when the midwife returns with the candle.

John Burnside

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