Audio: Read by the author.
that there went out a decree from Caesar Augustus,
that all the world should be taxed.
And this taxing was first made
when Cyrenius was governor of Syria.
I hear these words in your voice no matter who says them, in the well-water smell of the basement, by the artificial tree you and she would one day put a sheet over, so you never had to take it down or put it up again. Its tall white bulk waiting in the corner bothered me. I was older then. In the beginning I was with my cousins, some loved and some unknown, at your feet while you read the red-ribboned page from Luke, and my uncles, some loved and some unknown, stood around drinking in the background, making lewd gestures David and I would recognize much later, watching home videos with your ashes on the mantle. I didn’t get to grieve you; you died days after my first miscarriage. And I didn’t come home. Last night in the hour of midnight mass I opened the curtains, and streetlights and high oaks and five inches of new snow filled the room with a glow like bulbs underground as I rocked my firstborn. Whose head the sunrise flooded this morning with its unsparing horizontal beams in such a wave I cradled a corona as I nursed him, golden-headed, I am telling you. You whom I can talk to when I hear those names, Caesar Augustus and Cyrenius, governor of Syria, to which the province of Judaea had been added for a census.
Katie Hartsock’s first collection, Bed of Impatiens (Able Muse), was a finalist for the Ohioana Award. Her poems have appeared or are forthcoming in Poetry, Greensboro Review, Arion, Birmingham Poetry Review, Dappled Things, Southern Indiana Review, Jesus the Imagination, and elsewhere.
The Image archive is supported in part by an award from the National Endowment for the Arts.