Dismantling Bethlehem by Sam Barbee

Photo of downed tree next to house
Photograph by Frederick Wilbur

After-Xmas industry. In neighborhoods,
crisp cedars and spruce pines hyphenate curbs.
A pasture fronts the orphanage, tempers
grid of brick dorms where crews toil
with life-size figurines of an ornamental nativity.
An ensemble donated by Sears & Roebuck
in the 70’s like gold tensile or corporate myrrh –
fully amortized / no retail benefit at the mall.

Bedded horizontal on a trailer, the plaster
statues murmur in route to out-of-season storage:
a devalued host of sojourners relegated
to an outbuilding. Not a stable, not a fable,
but dry font until next November’s advent –
reverent season promising a savior born unto us,
into a fresh-hayed manger, a portal
for recurrent salvation.

Maintenance crews wedge spooled garland
into corners. Oversized wreaths, and a bulky star
crowd stalls. Large pigeons with Christmas cards
as wings flap back to timber roosts. Disturb bats,
and evict lazy crows from rafters. Witnesses
in communal epiphany – yuletide limbo of red
and green freight. At sundown, a crew member
fires up a joint, and flaunts a bottle of wine

from a barn nook. He toasts the prodigal occupants
hurriedly tucked into their ten-month barracks . . .
one year ends and another begins . . .
Dusted with nightfall’s tired twinkle, no statue mourns.
Suspended lights sway and trace monochrome faces
with shadows. All lights are switched off,
and darker castes encroach. Gray mouths chant
like bemused infidels. Sagging barn doors swing shut.

Sam Barbee
Sam Barbee has a new poetry collection, Apertures of Voluptuous Force (2022, Redhawk Publishing). He has three previous collections, including That Rain We Needed (2016, Press 53), a nominee for the Roanoke-Chowan Award as one of North Carolina’s best poetry collections of 2016. Also, Uncommon Book of Prayer (2021, Main Street Rag) which chronicles family travels in England.

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