The Common Good
November-December 1998

Nativity Scene

by Pamela Rice Porter | November-December 1998

Carver at market speaks to a tourist

Luanda, Angola

Carver at market speaks to a tourist
Luanda, Angola

It is not so easy, sir, as that.
As a carver I can attest
it is not so simple as you say.
A few figures from wood,
a camel or two for your American children
to place here and there,
to make hop across the floor, take time
and the attention one might pay
over many days
to a complicated dream.

Take for example, Mary.
She must reveal herself in the wood
wearing an expression
between startle and complete surprise.
After all, she is still a child herself
and no one told her, not her mother,
not her friend Elizabeth-
you see what I am saying-
no one could have warned her
it would come to this.

And Joseph
will not appear old
as the other carvers portray him.
When we say "Mary" and "Joseph"
we speak of youth
and the way the young
look out from the eyes
only so far, perhaps this far-
as my arm can reach-no farther.
I must bring the eyes into shortened vision.

Still there is a problem in Joseph.
The dream with its horrendous threads
he wears like a cloak,
and so stands prepared to scoop up the baby
like this-grasp Mary
by the arm like this-and flee.
Already Herod's men
have scattered over the countryside
and will slash the throats of young boys
as if they were goats at market.

And Emmanuel, the child,
is not content with birth.
The eyes squeeze shut
because it is painful to see,
the little hands fist tight in desperate flail,
so fearsome is the freedom of birth.
And if the milk of his mother
does not descend in a little time
he will learn the slow murder
of hunger.

Sir, I too have done this dreaming, fleeing,
have made these contortions of face and eyes
without food, rest.
I will carve the figures as you wish
but I tell you, once you have seen
the face of God,
in every face you will see him
and suffer the knot of God's hunger,
and then discover
his haunted face in your own.

Pamela Rice Porter and her family were serving in the Republic of Congo as volunteers in mission with the United Methodist Church when this poem appeared.

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