As much as time can bear

In the black well of the silent sky, drops of moisture
that may be stars. Among the crowded houses below, 
perfect and imperfect strangers jostle for sleeping space.
Warm air is drawn into uneasy lungs. Every bed full, and 
even barns and stables hold weary limbs and aching bodies, 
straw stuffed into makeshift mattresses. The smell
of animals mixes into the soup and spice of this unfamiliar night.

Groans everywhere, of every kind. Out of sight
a baby pushes down its tunnel and bursts into this
brave new world, drinking it in: 
another foreigner, changing the statistics,
changing lives, as babies always do.

Animals too on the familiar hills, where shepherds
know every inch of the dust and distances. 
Sheep take shape, then fade into obscurity. 
Like watchmen, the shepherds hanker after dawn 

Until the night breaks open like lightning, and suddenly
the world changes.
Transcendent singing from the heights,
bright like precocious morning dew thrown on the thirsty earth. 
Angels pierce heaven’s curtain and show themselves:
just enough, no more: as much as time can bear.
Leaving the shepherds with a journey, and a sudden road.

No angel this time for the unworldly mother,
who holds in her tired arms a promise and a memory
here in this unwelcome place, where the wise and foolish mingle,
where soldiers stride across the savage hills
and death comes easily, and comes again.

But when the shepherds burst into her naked room
with their garbled worship, she can only smile
at their dirty hands and clean imaginations:
told not to be afraid herself, she understands their story,
shows them the promised baby, and
<Yes, we are all together. It was God’s idea>