Blackbirdan online journal of literature and the artsSpring 2018  Vol. 17 No. 1
an online journal of literature and the arts
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Adoration of the Magi, ca. 1475
after a painting by Hieronymus Bosch

He’s painted it as a scene in a play
he may have seen as a child, given us
what we’ve wanted. Not just

the gem-encrusted ewer,
the ciborium holding fragrant myrrh.
Or the African king in majestic white,

gold coins tossed at a baby’s feet—
or even the mother—
crowned herself with stiff, crimped hair.

But also, those minor actors
who are like us—
some human tangle of wonder

and despair: the peasant
awkwardly leaning in for a better view;
the two shepherds reaching chapped hands

through the essential window, warming
themselves over a fire—
the world, the word, offering

them its flame—
as if the artist understood
it’s not just the old stories—

but what we make of them. Beyond,
the backdrop is a broad sea of blue,
drowsing indifferently, drifting away.

And somewhere, another woman
croons a tune to her own
naked boy. Somewhere, too, a bird turns

a silver wing—
and soon, darkness will arrive.
The curtain falls. The audience

gathers up belongings, believing,
at least for now—
in that fire, that illumination they

have seen, holding it in their own cold hands,
small warmth that could sustain them
on the long journey home.  

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