John Heaton (jheaton) wrote,
John Heaton

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Advent 2009: The Stable Rat

I first read this poem in 2006, and I thought it was great. I loved the language, and how the poet used the rat's transition from gray shadows to glorious light to illustrate the transformative power of Jesus's love. I remember giving serious consideration to using this poem for my Advent poetry project that year, but ultimately I decided not to. Why? Don't know. I do know that had I posted it then, one thing would have been different: the credit line would not have had a date of death. Cunningham passed away in 2008 at the age of 91.

The Stable Rat

   - 1 -

I am a shadow, gray, gray, gray—
never lightened by scarlet or splotched gold
or even a dot of the green I see
when I gaze from the cracks,
peering out of my necessary night.
I have often wondered,
what if I swallowed a tiny lantern?
Would my black eyes brighten
and show me where to go
other than here in this hostel
of beam and board and rafter?
I’ve heard the others, know their shapes
as clearly as my own;
the donkey braying at the foolishness of hens,
the cow content to give her daily pail of milk,
never withholding her placidity,
the horse too old for harnessing, who wakes to eat,
the sheep, clotting their corner
in four mounds of wool
white as moons.
They hear my teeth gnawing to keep them sharp,
they see my tail over the edge of sacks,
my mouth feasted full of grain,
but never turn to look, to recognize.
I beg their attention and in my pain
shriek like the prongs of pitchfork against stone.
I am alone and gray, forgotten,
a fill of skin so small among their legs.
They stare where I am not,
no thing to name,
no presence to be known.

   - 2 -

That was then, but when this evening came
two strangers entered here,
two-legged, and the one wrapped round in cloth
lay down in straw, the other hovered over,
and soon the two were three.
I crept warily to where she lay
as did the others move close and closer still,
breathing upon the one
who had been born beneath this roof.
The donkey shunted me away with threat of hoof,
the horse loomed, and the hens
hopped so near, their feathers stirred his hair.
The sheep became a wall to block the wind
that seeped from every stall,
and I was left outside the circling of him.
Then I saw his hand grope for the shadow
that was me.
His fingers clutched my tail
And lovingly he turned me round to see.

Suddenly I became green and gold and scarlet,
haloed by a flame, a fire as was he,
a rising higher than the evening star—
a glory given me,
shadow and self together.

Julia Cunningham (1916 – 2008)

Previous Advent posts:

2003: Christmas
2004: The Adoration of the Shepherds
2005: Comfort and Joy
2006: from About a Boy
2007: Madonna and Child
2008: Selections from A Charlie Brown Christmas

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