The word itself when spoken
          is the sound of straw shifting among
its innumerable strands,
          in a whisper; a hush, when pressed,
or laid amid, or sat upon,
          which was also the sound of tissue
I unwrapped from the ceramic
          figures: Mary, Joseph, the three wise men,
a donkey, some lambs,
          the Christ child, wrapped in swaddling,
laid in a manger. The figures
          were packed within an open barn stall
with a thatched roof, and it was
          fragrant with the scent of the previous
Christmas bayberry candles,
          the ones mother burned before her death,
Christmas also being her birthday.
          How reverently I held and then arranged
each figurine, placing each in
          a circle surrounding the manger. There
were even figures of angels
          which held trumpets that I placed on top
of the roof, announcing their
          clarion sennet in my imagination; but
it was the pronounced silence,
          the stillness inherent in the character of
each of the figurines that transported
          me to not only the birth of Christ but also
to recalling my mother, her essence
          levitating amid the tableau, something of
her barely discernable within
          spaces between figurines themselves, and
the softness of saying the word
          creche, as I whispered it, that made me
believe there was something that
          hovered in the air there, quite eager to
return my perception amid
          the nothingness that perpetuated such
wonder emanating in the silence.


Wally Swist’s books include Huang Po and the Dimensions of Love (Southern Illinois University Press, 2012), selected by Yusef Komunyakaa for the 2011 Crab Orchard Open Poetry Competition, and A Bird Who Seems to Know Me: Poems Regarding Birds and Nature, winner of the 2018 Ex Ophidia Poetry Prize.