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In Celebration of Christmas


The following poem was originally part of a cycle of poems written in celebration of the birth of our first child.  It is an attempt firstly at re-imagining the story of Arthur, Lancelot and Galahad: the story traditionally known as The Matter of Britain.  But secondly, it is an attempt to draw out some of the more easily identifiable Christological nuances of that old story, without being so explicit as to do damage to the vehicle itself.

The Matter of Britain

While all the rest were at each other’s throats, I sought the king’s poet
amongst the mendicants who beg in the subway tunnels, next to the Fifth Street turnstile.
He was dressed with impeccable style, as usual, in camel’s hair and leather,
but whether he knew he mimicked greater men than he is more than I can tell.


He hailed me, as was his wont: “Repent, believe the Gospel and be raised from the dead!”
But without responding I said, “Taliessin, what hope is there when Camelot has failed?”
And, “Failed?” said he, “Has Camelot so quickly failed?  It cannot be; Camelot will endure.”
“There’s no one else as sure as you, old fool,” I scoffed.  “Come view the war that jealousy’s unveiled.”


Then I took his gnarled hand and led him up the concrete steps to view his broken city.
A greater pity there cannot be than to show a prophet the downfall of his prophecy, but when
Taliessin saw the ruin of that place and heard the bullets of the king’s patrols whine
past his head, his eyes retained their shine as though he were walking safe in Eden.


“Fear’s all that’s left now,” said I to him.  “Or does your brow too brightly shine for you to clearly see?”
“It cannot be,” murmured the Shining Brow, “Camelot will endure.  Love will all things bear.”
Then in despair I took him to the place where the civil war raged fiercest in an uptown city street
in time to witness the hasty retreat of Lancelot’s men in front of Arthur’s stronger gear.


A sheet of acid rain put out the cigarette I saw clenched in Lancelot’s gloved hand
as his band of wounded soldiers gathered ‘round him under cover of a town car, upended and ablaze.
They rested on the street as they readied for another attack, rationing out the remaining rounds
while the sounds of Arthur’s approaching tanks echoed off the corroded steel and broken concrete.


The king’s convoy soon came into view at the far end of the street, monotonously strong and inevitable.
Lancelot’s men kept hidden behind their unstable cover, awaiting just the right moment to fling
their heavy grenades and bring their enemies’ rolling artillery to a halt.  Behind the tanks
jogged a dozen ranks of infantry and behind them still crawled the jeep that bore the king.


Then I saw him; saw Arthur, my despot lord, an older Lancelot, and I was struck again
at how like the two men were: both with golden hair (Arthur’s streaked with gray), both with iron mien,
both wore clothes of animal skin and both had made love to the queen
(which brought us to this war).  It was clear to me that Camelot was done.


“If so furiously Adam Adam fights, then Adam soon will Adam slay,” I said.
But Taliessin turned his head away and merely said, “Camelot will endure; the serpent cannot win,
regardless of the Adam’s sin.”  Then he turned and walked away.
I thought to stay to see the outcome of the battle, but I soon followed the king’s poet.


He passed a dreary hospital as he made his solemn way, and I saw him look up and pause.
Looking up myself to find the cause of his hesitation I saw a sign that read: “Cradle of Nativity,”
which seemed to be the place’s name.  Under the eaves of the building a surreal circus of farm animals
marched in a parody of children’s murals, marking it a pediatric ward, an oasis of tender infancy.


In strode Taliessin with a smile on his wrinkled face and I hurried to catch him up.
A nurse bearing a silver cup moved to stop us but recognizing the king’s poet, she waved us on
into a corridor where, through a window, we could view the infants swaddled in their blankets.
Through an outside window opposite, the rockets of the king again announced his vengeful intention.


“It’s mad to think that Camelot can endure!”  I cried to the old fool who stood beside me.
But disdainfully he gestured out the window and said, “Camelot lies not in that sad
king nor in his sadder courtier. Camelot lies not there, but there!”  He said and pointed to a sleeping child.
Thus it was I first beheld my lord, the high prince, Galahad.

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