Unto the Least of These

I feel, almost, as though it were unfair
That I should have these memories
Of Christmas
And others less fortunate go
Never knowing
How it was—bouncing
Mother’s baskets on our knees
During our journey through town
On the buckboard.
We had packed that food like children
Eternally hungry,
But those sweetbreads
Were for someone dearer than even we were dear:
The poor who needed
Turkey dinner almost as much as we
Needed to take it to them.
And so I think to myself how lucky I was
To have had these memories:
My mother’s red jams sparkling from jars
Never opened or touched by one of us;
And a few round oranges,
Wrapped in paper, we got but once a year;
And all of us, eyes wide,
Wondering who it was special enough
To have the same at Christmas as we hoped to have.
These were moments I can only whisper with reverence:
Afraid my father’s chimney hat would topple
While the horses clipped the streets
And he struck out toward the west of town,
And we all huddled down in quilts
And chattered, sang, and thought to ourselves,
If these are the least and they are the same
As though we’d done it unto Him,
He must be poor
And live in shacks lit sometimes only by the moon.
And many a Christmas night I’ve walked in radiant streets,
Not sharing half that joy I once felt then
To see the children laughing in the darkened doors
And father’s bristling head of hair bowing low,
While he nearly dumped the biscuits on the floor.
We count ourselves among the lucky ones
Who listened for the Christ child
Year after year
And found him in our childhood close to home
And heard him in our prayers.
The answers topple from our memories now
As though the ends of waiting hurl like ribbons
Streaming into a patterned clasp.
Our woven images of life are spun from knowing
We once knew him
In our growing past.

Based on childhood memories of the late Vontella Hess Kimball in Farmington, Utah.

Be Still

Be quiet, fractious children, boys
And girls agog, young folk self-willed!
Abstracted fathers, back to poise!
Distracted mothers, peace—be stilled!
Be still within! By car, by air,
Through daily fretting, nightly pain,
At birth or death, yet still his care,
Be calm: receive the Lord again.
Be still and know … How else to know
That joy in husband, child and wife;
In sister, brother, friend? or grow
Our meanings from the seed of life?
How else to feel at one with all
The Lord’s creation, worm and star,
The whirlwind and the waterfall
The center linking near and far?
Like Mary, choose the better part:
Sit down as by him, ease your load;
Commune as with him, heart to heart.
Be still; and know that he is God.
But now, be Martha: rise once more,
Prepare the supper, sweep the floor,
And trim the lamp; now, work your fill—
The bridegroom’s at the gate. Be still!

Family Home Evening

The flaming fire
Crackles the golden heat,
Music from the old
Wood piano
Hums, swells,
The family sings,
Cinnamon sweet bread
Warms the air;
The fire burns out
On this family evening,
But gently in the back,
The warm sweet cinnamon
Memories remain,
To be pulled out
On another night
Dark, lonely,
To soothe a hurt
As his head sinks
Deep into the soft pillow.

I Am the Courage and the Heat

The sky moves royally in winter
—a distant chorus
of heaven’s dominion—
at night parading promises
across all space
with stars and torches.
From down on earth a sleepy man
looks out and shivers,
then shuts his window upon visions,
content to peep at glory,
then retreat into a nest of sleep.
Wisps rise from houses,
the breath of tired fires
and apologies smoked up
from cautious candles
made of orthodox red wax.
Yet some men learn to say His name.
It goes up in their faulty prayers,
a lease of virtue to their timid lips,
of lightning to their frozen souls,
of love to halting hearts;
and all huddle
in the promise of millennial thaw
so generously made
to the planet where Christ bled.