our hearts burst open in the heat

The Magi

We kick our camels’ sides and curse, but they refuse to rise,
as if this house were the only oasis in a trackless desert,
and this child, playing in the doorway, the owner of the well.
They swing their ponderous heads slowly from side to side.
Their silver harness bells tinkle, their vermillion tassels flap,
and the child laughs.

He cannot be the one foretold to lead us to the abode of light,
where wisdom glistens like dewdrops on which new worlds curve.
We must have misread the astrological signs or been dazzled
by a wind-driven spark. But how do we explain the strange behavior
of our beasts? They stretch out their necks on the sand and sigh.
It sounds like prayer.

There being none other, we may as well present our gifts to him,
although they feel all wrong, as if we had carried precious salt
across steep mountain passes to offer to a prince living by the sea.
Worthless to us, we will leave our frankincense to purchase bread,
and our gold to pay for lessons. Of what use is myrrh? Before we go,
let us buy him a ball.

Far away, we perceive our granddaughters twirling prayer wheels.
Through our minds’ sanctum echoes the sound of ripe plums tumbling
into beggars’ bowls. In the ravine of the roan horse, lighting blasts
a single tree. Like closed pine cones, our hearts burst open in the heat!
We would not be more astonished if a star slipped from the night
to hover here beyond the dawn.

Too stunned to dismount, we gaze and gaze. How extraordinary!
The ordinary child!

From Firmament, a book of poems by Kathleen L. Housley. This is the opening poem in the first section of the collection, entitled “Lessons for a Young God.”

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