Patrick Lane

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Patrick Lane has written more than twenty books of poetry. He has received most of Canada's top literary awards, including the Governor General's Award, the Canadian Authors Association Award, and two National Magazine Awards. Today, his poetry appears in all major Canadian anthologies of English literature. His memoir, which Alistair MacLeod called "a tremendous contribution by an author at the peak of his power," is titled There is a Season. It received the 2005 British Columbia Award for Canadian Non-Fiction. Patrick Lane lives near Victoria, British Columbia, with his wife, the poet Lorna Crozier.

Monday's Poem

© Patrick Lane

A Christmas Poem

Thinking about Christmas and wondering
why you've never written one,
a Christmas poem, you mean, something
about birth and death, something
about stables and animals, the soft smell
of cattle in winter, the bloom of steam
rising from their horns, and chickens,
surely there'd be chickens there, roosting,
quiet, even the rooster though he'd have an eye
on the sun coming, that first light breaking
over the hills, and a birth, yes, a baby, sure,
and you wonder at that, remembering
the time you, only twenty, a first-aid-man
in a milltown, delivered a baby up north,
that slipperiness, that shout the baby gave
when he took in a whole world with his breath,
that kind of miracle, though death
wasn't the first thing in your mind
like that birth in the stable in the story
you were told when you were little,
a holy child, and which now you almost never
think of because you know it's only a story,
a myth really, something made up to keep
small children happy, and anyway it's been
written about a hundred thousand times,
a million sentimental poems about Christmas
and you swore a long time ago
you would never go that way, but still
there was a birth and there was a child
and even if the stable was a wishfulness
with its animals and birds, its goats and pigs,
its chickens and horses, the hay laid down
and a blanket hung to keep out the cold
because it gets cold at Christmas, even
in the Holy Land, and a woman, yes,
there had to be a mother who took up
that child to her breast and fed it, and
a father too, a little afraid, a little unsure
of what to do, helpless like men are
at ordinary miracles, like you were
up north, that baby sliding out of the woman
and you holding it for a moment, the woman
saying, so soft you almost didn't hear her,
that quiet, "Give him to me," and you did
and you sat there beside her and said nothing
only watched that small face pressed against her,
young as you were, and you were young then,
saying nothing, the blood on your hands
her blood, not his, a rust-red, drying
in the air and then her looking at you with
something in her face you didn't understand
not then, not now, her tears without crying,
and the quiet in her after such a birth, her
so poor she wouldn't go out to a doctor
and chose you, and what it has to do
with Christmas, you don't know, but it does
somehow because of her look and the child
and the blood on your hands, and the night,
and everything so quiet in that room, and
not knowing if what you've written is enough
or whether it's even about Christmas,
but it's as close as you can get to it, her look
and the baby lying there, quiet, and the years.