The following poem, Epiphany, was written near the Feast of Epiphany (liturgical calendar) in January of 1991. At the time, the U.S. was beginning Operation Desert Storm. At the same time, the churches of Moscow were open to the public for the first time in decades; this should have been a time of great rejoicing, but it was overshadowed by the war.
I happened to be on Route 39 when I heard the newscast regarding Russia. Since I had been there in 1969, a time when St. Basils was considered nothing more than a historical relic, I was overwhelmed by the image of churchgoers carrying candles and singing carols once again streaming through the door of that great cathedral.
In addition, the word epiphany has meaning beyond liturgy. When you have an epiphany, you have a strong and startling revelation about something. The title seemed to fit on both levels.
The poem was part of Slow Miracle, a collection published by Lake Shore Press. With gratitude to Carol Spelius, editor and publisher. In light of world events, I like to think the poem still resonates today.
Moscow, January, 1991
At last the snow that covers the bricks
Of Red Square is not tinged with blood,
And the myriad footprints become one
Straight line or great circle,
Not phantom shadows frozen
In Januarys white night, massacred
Or starved. No longer hungry for flesh,
The Bear begins its true journey now,
Free to tread the tundra,
Play in the snow, wrapped only
In her great, long-awaited spirit.
The people walk to God,
Who hid in the swirls of Saint Basils,
Who cried from the souls of the dead,
Who lived in Chagalls painting,
Who occupied the servants quarters
In the Hermitage,
Who spoke in Nureyevs leaps,
Who placed a mark upon the forehead
Of the peacemakers,
Who waits and works all slow miracles.
Because I have walked in Red Square,
Stood in long lines for Lenins corpse
And for oranges,
Because I too know the disappointment
Of too much thought and theory,
And have found church doors locked
In my own country, because I wait
As the Eagle dies in the desert,
I need to proclaim this epiphany
With bells. For they are burdened,
Bundled in heavy black coats,
Bright, flowered babushkas. Never
Has the arctic night been so white
Thousands of candles cupped
By hands used to cold.
The words of the carols are difficult,
Buried so long in ice,
Seeping like blood
Into the earth which has no choice
But to bear.
From the Jan. 3-9, 2007, issue