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The Heron's Nest

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Volume IV, Number 2: February 2002.
Copyright © 2002. All rights reserved by the respective authors.

Editors' Choices • Commentary • Haiku Pages: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5 • Index of Poets

Heron's Nest Award

      nine-month belly–
      she slowly unwraps
      the heirloom crèche
                                            D. Claire Gallagher

For some of our readers the word crèche may be unfamiliar. It is defined most specifically as a crib, or manger, but also (in its more common usage) as a Nativity–the setting of the birth of Jesus.

Claire Gallagher’s poem would have been good even if the crèche had been purchased a couple of years ago at Wal-Mart. But this crèche is not just any crèche, it's an heirloom. Claire has greatly amplified the resonance of her poem by telling us that this special Christmas decoration has been passed down from generation to generation. Surely the figures (Mary, Joseph, Baby Jesus, the Three Wise Men, assorted villagefolk and farm animals) are not plastic. It is easy to imagine that they were handcrafted of porcelain, papier-māché, or wood, with carefully painted faces and specially sewn costumes. Probably included in the set are tiny bales of hay, and some straw for lining the miniature manger.

A pregnant woman unwraps a precious heirloom. It occurs to me that this decoration has been stored away for a particular length of time, just as a life is stored within a mother until the time comes for it to be born. Presumably, the pregnant woman is a daughter, or daughter-in-law of the poet. The poet looks on happily. She is enjoying the reemergence of Christmas ornaments. As piece by piece the Nativity is unwrapped, the poet is struck by the meticulous care with which the mother-to-be is going about her task. How perfectly apt! One who is about to give birth is empathizing with one of the most famous births of all time. Everywhere in the world, the act of bringing forth a life is an occasion for awe. The portrayals of a mother’s imminent labor and her reverent handling of a crèche, induces such awe in me. I imagine the crèche to be Claire’s own family heirloom, one that she has carefully preserved and will one day give to the woman in the poem. In all likelihood it will eventually be passed on to the person about to be born.

Another interesting facet to this poem is the significance of the word “heirloom,” defined as “a piece of property that descends to the heir as an inseparable part of an inheritance.” Also as “something of special value Š” On the most fundamental level, family genes could be thought of as heirlooms. The birth, lifetime, and death of Jesus are of supreme value to Christians. From a religious standpoint, accepting Jesus could be considered an inheritance. Furthermore, family beliefs tend to be carried forward by succeeding generations. So, in this poem the word "heirloom" resonates powerfully. It is an actual object, yet genetic transmission and faith are also implicit.

“Nine-month belly” is a delightfully creative way to describe a mother coming to term. The careful unwrapping of a special heirloom, a Nativity no less, suggests that this pregnant woman may also be coming to terms with other matters: a new role in her family and, perhaps, her own spirituality. Many thanks to Claire Gallagher for this richly rewarding poem.

  Christopher Herold
February 2002

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