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Desert Noel
by Ed Bennett

We set the plaster figures
in their assigned places
in the yearly crèche
then dressed for midnight mass,
the orthodox murmur preceding
the pagan ritual
of torn wrapping paper.

I believed then with a child's heart
the too many tenets and
the mortification weight
of inherited faith, the blind following
of anointed docents
leading us to heaven through
their own hidden frailties.

I am older now, too old
for this solstice of gifts,
the quid pro quo
that no longer comforts
when belief has crumbled
and the din of faithful prayer
is little more than seasonal noise.

The fir trees will dry out,
the colored lights coiled
at the end of the revelry.
The Christian feast is over,
broken apart, put away
for a year's worth of insincerity,
abandonment, dissolution.

In the desert there are no evergreens
and the lights are cast
across the night sky
unaware of a season's end.
The Paiutes prayed, thanked,
lived without the trappings of
monkish cowls or Latinate hymns.

And each babe borne among them,
in a desert manger for coyotes
and big horn sheep,
is sacred and loved –
each the child of a Creator
who hears the song of eagles,
feathered choir of the desert sky.


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