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.