POETRY: The Innkeeper: An Epiphany Poem by Carol Penner

The Innkeeper: An Epiphany Poem by Carol Penner

They were grateful lodgers,
considering the humble accommodations.
We did the best we could,
the place full up,
our stable the last corner we had.
Mary, who had a baby coming,
wanting only peace and privacy,
was happy with anything.
It was a birth like any other,
the mother spent, the baby crying,
the father bewildered.
I gave her swaddling clothes,
the ones my Daniel used.
Daniel was on my hip as I gave them,
and he wanted down,
and toddled over to the baby,
leaning close, patting his face.
We all laughed.
They stayed a couple of weeks,
we had no trouble with them.
Some shepherds came to visit,
the night that bright star had us all out and staring.
Then there were those foreign fellows,
I don’t know how they knew them…
but they didn’t stay long.
The next morning in fact, early,
her husband pounding on the door at daybreak,
wanted to settle the bill, with gold coins no less.
I went out to say good-bye.
Holding the baby tightly,
she looked grey with worry.
I hurried over, thinking the baby was sick,
but she told me of her husband’s dream,
that Herod was coming to kill their child
and now they were fleeing this very hour…
to Egypt, of all places!
I reassured her as best I could,
her not being from these parts.
It’s safe here, safe as anywhere, I told her.
And why would Herod take an interest
in any child in Bethlehem?
Egypt is a long way away—
I looked into her eyes,
you’ll go all that way, for a dream?
The last I saw of them, they were cresting that hill.
She looked back, and held up her hand,
and then they were gone, Egypt bound.
I did not think much about them again
until the day the soldiers came.
Herod’s men, silent and brutal,
untouched by any mother’s screams.
House to house, they searched for children under two.
I was standing here by the window when they came
and tore my Daniel from my arms.
They left him lying on the ground outside…
and I tell you that day a sword pierced my soul also.
The crying on the outside has stopped,
but inside I’m still weeping for Daniel
and every other missing child.
I think of Mary in Egypt with her baby in her arms,
all ours dead and buried.
If we had known the danger,
we would have left everything and followed her.
The anger that fills me now is bigger than my life.
It looks for a king whose bloody men
come armed and armored for babes in arms.
It looks toward Roman rulers that leave our men
enraged and helpless, knowing that survival
depends on accepting suffering, at least for now.
And my anger ranges as far as God’s throne,
challenging a deity who sends dreams to only one.
Would it have been too much to ask for a dream
that warned of danger for all Bethlehem’s children?
My mind swirling with anger and grief,
I sit here empty lapped,
and my dreams are all of Egypt
and a baby safe in his mother’s arms.

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