Alternative Telling

At the inn,
Joseph and Mary
held white handkerchiefs
over their noses,
thus insulted
the crowded room
of farmers
and laborers.

I have a memory
of standing
with a clay pot
in my hand
and drinking
Egyptian beer,
knowing I was
bodily unclean
with sweat and dust
from a long day
shaping stone.

How silent the room became
as all eyes turned
to the newcomers.
We listened
as the innkeeper
sent them to the manger
to sleep with the animals
even though
there would be room enough
for the couple inside,
once we workers headed
for our homes.

Where were
the lord’s angels
with their trumpets
to blow down
the walls created
by our cold shoulders
while the innkeeper
cleared away empties
and tabulated
Ps & Qs?

copyright © 2020 Kenneth P. Gurney

Childhood Reenactment

My pet mice were named
Joseph and Mary.

One of the six in the litter
had to be named Jesus.

But which one that lay
on the shredded paper nest?

Our dog enacted the roles
of all the barn animals each day for treats.

Our outside motion sensor light
was the Star of Wonder.

Three house finches at the window
played the Wise Men.

Not taking us seriously,
our local youth priest mock-blessed

the liquid inside the no drip
small animal water bottle.

copyright © 2020 Kenneth P. Gurney


Mary and Joseph
accepted the innkeeper’s
overcrowded stable,
but feared for the many
behind them
who were turned away
to fend for themselves
through the frigid night.

A Roman guard
patrolled the streets.
He rousted folks
from the alleys
that protected them
from the relentless wind
He forced them out
of the town proper
into the wilderness.

Piercing wolf calls
kept the weary travelers
huddled together
and in doubt of whether
in the morning
they would be counted
in Caesar Augustus’s
coopted census.

copyright © 2019 Kenneth P. Gurney


Why is the census coopted? A Roman census of Judea took place in the year 6 C. E. It was ordered by the new Roman governor of Syria, Publius Sulpicius Quirinius. The gospel of Luke uses this census as a means for Joseph and Mary to travel to his birth town of Bethlehem so the Christ may be born in the home town of King David as prophecy prescribes. Luke places the census 9 years before it actually took place to facilitate his story.

I always found it odd that Joseph and Mary were forced to leave a thriving business and any livestock they owned behind, risk bandits upon the road just to be counted for a census. In the context of reality the loss of production seems crazy. In the context of creating a metaphorical story so the hero (Jesus) is born in the town of prophesy (Bethlehem) so the people rally around the hero, I understand it and am fine with it.

This poem postulates what happens to all the surplus folks who returned to Bethlehem for the census (that end up forcing Joseph and Mary to sleep in a stable and lay the new born savior in a manger) and could find no lodging at all because all space was taken.

Tangent: I always picture the donkeys and burros in the stable nibbling hay out from under the newborn Christ child, because Mary set him in a manger on top of their hay and they were hungry.

What about me? My story of “No Vacancy” took place in Des Moines, Iowa when I planned to stop there for the night back in 1995 on a trip from Milwaukee to the southern Rocky Mountains. I was unaware that their was a farm equipment trade show / convention going on and not a single room was open. I ended up driving south on I-35 into the northern portion of Missouri before finding an open motel room. So I was on the road an extra two hours that day. I guess I could have slept in my car in a Walmart parking lot, but that was not my style. Nor is it my style now.

Love & Light