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Scott Cairns

Stranger in a Strange Land

Two Icons

I. Nativity

As you lean in, you'll surely apprehend
the tiny God is wrapped
in something more than swaddle. The God

is tightly bound within
His blesséd mother's gaze—her face declares
that she is rapt by what

she holds, beholds, reclines beholden to.
She cups His perfect head
and kisses Him, that even here the radiant

compass of affection
is announced, that even here our several
histories converge and slip,

just briefly, out of time. Which is much of what
an icon works as well,
and this one offers up a broad array

of separate narratives
whose temporal relations quite miss the point,
or meet there. Regardless,

one blithe shepherd offers music to the flock,
and—just behind him—there
he is again, and sore afraid, attended

by a trembling companion
and addressed by Gabriel. Across the ridge,
three wise men spur three horses

towards a star, and bowing at the icon's
nearest edge, these same three
yet adore the seated One whose mother serves

as throne. Meantime, stumped,
the kindly Abba Joseph ruminates,
receiving consolation

from an attentive dog whose master may
yet prove to be a holy
messenger disguised as fool. Overhead,

the famous star is all
but out of sight by now; yet, even so,
it aims a single ray

directing our slow pilgrims to the core
where all the journeys meet,
appalling crux and hallowed cave and womb,

where crouched among these other
lowing cattle at their trough, our travelers
receive that creatured air, and pray.

II. Dormition

Most blessed among all women and among
the mass of humankind,
in this fraught image our mother is asleep.

She lies arms crossed and, notably, across
the spacious foreground
upon an altared bed, her head upraised

upon a scarlet robe,
and we surround her strange repose perplexed
by grief that couples homage

nonetheless. Not we, exactly, but our holy
antecedents, whose bright
nimbi gleam undimmed despite their weeping.

Here again the icon serves
to limn the artifice of time, drawing
to this one still point a broad

synaxis of the blessed, including somewhose souls unbodied havepreceded her ...

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