A Few Words on Cathy Bobb’s “Day After Christmas”
*Editor’s note: Our second Pushcart Prize nomination goes to Cathy Bobb, who had two poems in issue 6.1 (~thom).
Cathy Bobb is a poet of quietness, a poet of the pressure of the unspoken. She acknowledges Jane Kenyon’s influence, and Kenyon’s too-small collection of work has been a worthy mentor, the poet’s eye attuned to nature and experience through the slightest of movements, resulting in poetic simplicity that affords richness and multifariousness. I’ve been reading Cathy’s poems for many years, and in my opinion “Day After Christmas” is a major poetic achievement. From the title to the first two lines, “The angels have gone back/to their heavenly homes.” the poem jolts us from our contemporary experience of Christmas (the big finale finished: presents opened, Christmas dinner leftovers in foil and Tupperware, January bills already on the mind) to the historical second day of Christ’s life. Who thinks of that? The church pageants don’t follow up with the falling drama of the morning after.
The poem’s axis is the relationship between seeing and believing: “The humble who came,/called to the stable by word of mouth,/have seen and gone home.” The incarnation, Christ as infant and then the prepared Messiah “worthy and waiting for his Father’s call,” is placed quietly amid “the sawdust/and tools of his earthly father.” The human Christ is already both with us and leaving us, yet the poem’s form, one unbroken stanza ripe with enjambment and slant-rhyme (“far,” “far,” “sawdust,” “father,” “star”) unites human, Christ, seer, believer. The poem’s last four lines tilt the day after so that it enters our present time and unites those who witnessed the historical birth, and believed, to those of us now who believe. Time collapses, and believers unite in celebrating and worshipping the “star” that led “the humble who came.” The last two lines are a jolt, reminding us that the Christmas pageants acting out Day one point forward to God’s call to his son to “engage Satan in the desert….” War is coming. The Passion is coming.
The last line returns us to the poem’s opening while it pushes against closure. There are eyes “that have not seen, not believed.” The present tense, the “to be” verb, and the repetition of “not” underscore the reality that belief is born through faith. How we wonder at the birth and long to have been one of the humble witnesses. Cathy Bobb’s poem allows us a glimpse by connecting this current moment and time coming to that miracle.
Day After Christmas
The angels have gone back
to their heavenly homes.
The shepherds have returned
to fields and flocks.
The humble who came,
called to the stable by word of mouth,
have seen and gone home.
It is the second day of the incarnation;
the child who is God contents himself
at his mother’s breast,
worthy and waiting for his Father’s call
to engage Satan in the desert
far, far away from the sawdust
and tools of his earthly father.
For some this day after his birth
the world shines brighter than the star,
brighter than the Hand who made the eyes
that have not seen, not believed.