Nativities: Poems for Advent & Christmas

I’m releasing a collection of Advent and Christmas poems. I’ve gathered up 24 poems from years past and will share them again here. I’ve written dozens of poems during this special season – these are my favourites. I hope they serve to usher you further into reflection and imagination during Advent and Christmas.


Someone must go slow
because they all go
so fast. If no one takes time
we’ll end up running out
the clock with nothing full
about us but the inboxes.


Finally called on out 
of necessity or nostalgia; still
a comforter. One folding my hands
into pockets, I am shepherded 
from exposure’s life sentence. 


And half the lights are out
on the tree again, gladness
not trickling down stream today.
What is it about this holiday
which makes cold colder, voids
emptier? No news is good news,
say the optimists, but we are
not content with candlelight.
Give us glory.


I saw you before,
kneeling in her recesses,
near microscopic.
Hear this one small truth
as they run more tests yearly
and the grey sets in:
age delivers choice.
Shrink with cynicism or
grow with charity. 


One day while you napped
I married a couple. They were unsure
he would see the end of the year
and sprang for for well worn vows
near the river. It was cloudless,
the last flecks clinging
to branches clapping. They held on
to each other, ready for winter.
I walked home less afraid. 


We do not measure starlight
by egg timer
so as the rush its stride

or bail rivers
with tea spoons frantically
into our small mouths

that is not how to see or drink
we have years and years
we have holy immersion

joy will arrive by morning
let tears run tonight


Not so dumb as his father,
mouth like an air raid siren
in God’s backcountry, troubled
by a terrible thought, a name
too great to stuff into religion,
he screams his head off.
Though his spittle is anti-venom,
blessed is the one who comes
next with bare feet bruised.
Blessed is the one who comes
next in that terrible name.


The language of the universe is said
to be pronounced by finite equation. 
Black wells, immeasurable and growing 
so, reduced to tidy sums. No wonder
we are formless and void, desperate
for a word’s warmth, the visible if illegible breath.


I have not often chosen the better thing.
Firs as cut from construction paper at dusk,
early morning’s noiseless firmament,
coffee from disposable cups of Made in China
while the antique wastes. I have not
often chosen the better thing, though being
patient it remains, never taken from me.


Her song, shouted into the wind
with no drum, no accompaniment
but hunger pangs. I asked if you heard

from beyond time and matter, half
condemning your distance. “I have”

came the voice “and made you
near enough to reply”.


There is no hard reset
as if you can yank the plug
from the socket and shortcut.
No, there is only sitting there
for what seems like years
waiting to be here, listening
to the pulse ticking. A way
out will always present itself
but it is even colder
than the way in, a wide path,
bare but busy with dread
and knowledge stopping
short of understanding. 


Try to write
a poem on snow
and fall
poorly as freezing
rain. Snow needs
little you have 
on hand
but a soft
spot to land.


Locally sourced in weather and weeds, appeased only
by death’s happenstance, certain as a tossed coin.
No, far more strange 

than known, free than owned.
Procreator of Methuselah’s star, yet drawn to sit
around our ailing fires, even to gather the ritual’s kindling. 


Some we come to see
soar, heard as a symphony 
from the back seats. 
Most we come to see struggle,
heard as a child’s recital, the off
notes clanging in our chest
cavities, permitting us also
to risk approaching the piano. 


This year will be little
things like a corner to yourself
(so you think)
or a tired box of tinder able 
to kindle your dark eye or
perhaps just a song
sung broken under your breath
with an ounce of trust
in bed alone
(or so you think).


Just a sprig makes birth
of death in the dismal winter
as wanting turns to waiting.
With green you’ve bled me,
sharp leaf, in contrite cold.
Your dark daggers red me
young, having grown old.


I had not thought of you
as wordless or failing
to grip the wood toy
he fashioned or
stuttering through Torah.
Were you not meant
to arrive autonomous?
An entrance like any other
but still we are handed
no instruction manual
in the struggle to learn you,
deciphering the cries
on the far side of Bethlehem.


The rite long mistaken
as proof of allegiance is made
holy by the spark locatable 
at the start of time’s long chain
reaction, warming here a space
left in straw. The gap
between the cherubim filled.


On a walk in snow
under streetlight I stop
to think what it must
have been here back
a hundred years, then two,
then three and four, until
standing in the green dark
with only our owl’s cousin
and the dread silence, 
wondering if the primeval 
conifers heard news
from Palestine, and if you 
could tell anything had changed
at all by the patterns of snow.


It is a feast
of light for all
on night; a priest
hands bright bread
dressed in red
round, thawing
brittle ribs as winter
windows candled;
fed we sit
back and beam.


Geese, not angels, past
my kitchen window this Christmas
night. I strain to spot a form, obscured

in frost and fog, but hear clear the new
creature’s cry, east up river, the history
sending hope to all future.


The water breaks, pools
on the hymen, and then
a cry, known yet unknown
to the dark playing midwife.
Afterbirth and animal stench,
the glory of the temple
rests, an incense burning
as evening sacrifice.
Suckle the breast milk
now, little lamb, soon
it will be sour wine.


Yes, the candle did spread, though
not by flame expected, rather in wax
running out a gap the light thinned
as a blade does flesh so blood leaks.
Making a terrible mess of things, it went
where it liked, hot and patient, coagulating
in all manner of common fabric, joining up
as never before places which offered
only half-hearted invites of permeation. 


Flesh as feed, a body holy
for the hungry in a trough.
Herdsmen corralled to make
matters worse, signing to all
things they are made clean.
A girl with no longer a secret
in utero but in heart, treasure
hidden in a field.