A Thanksgiving Pilgrimage

A Poem for Christmas

by Joseph Brodsky, translated by Seamus Heaney

Imagine striking a match that night in the cave:
use the cracks in the floor to feel the cold.
Use crockery in order to feel the hunger.
And to feel the desert – but the desert is everywhere.

Imagine striking a match in that midnight cave,
the fire, the farm beasts in outline, the farm tools and stuff;
and imagine, as you towel your face in the towel’s folds,
the bundled up Infant and Mary and Joseph.

Imagine the kings, the caravans’ stilted procession
as they make for the cave, or rather three beams closing in
and in on the star; the creaking of loads, the clink of a cowbell;
(but in the cerulean thickening over the Infant
no bell and no echo of bell: He hasn’t earned it yet.)

Imagine the Lord, for the first time, from darkness, and stranded
immensely in distance, recognising Himself in the Son of Man:
homeless, going out to Himself in a homeless one.

Fr. Walter referred to our yearly nightmarish Thanksgiving travels as a pilgrimage, and I thought of the magi, who of course would have set out long before the Nativity to find the Christ Child.

This is the sixth Thanksgiving I’ll be flying home alone to Florida (non-consecutive, I spent one odd turkey day in Rome), and let me tell you, it gets old fast. I love my family dearly, but the rush-home-come-back-oh-look-it’s-Christmas shuffle has given me a the holiday blues for the past few years. I want to be cooking a turkey for my own family, and I know that that’s a big part of my discontent.

We the magi have begun our trek, and even our most intense holiday longings (for gift, family, spouse, child) cannot supersede our longing for transcendence, seeking the Infant who will save us, the God-Man we recognize even if we have yet to meet Him. The reason the holidays can disappoint is that they are only the means to a mystery that is still being lived out: the Incarnation continues.

Thank God for our unfulfilled space.  If I were content, how would I know myself? How would I remain God-needing? It is lack that engenders hope of fullness.


2 thoughts on “A Thanksgiving Pilgrimage

  1. What a beautiful poem. Could you tell me what book it’s from? I would love to read more of his work, especially the Heaney translation.

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