An Exchange of Gifts

Our Christmas visit to the nunnery.
In the bare parlour, on their wooden chairs,
bored with unseasonal austerity,
the children fidget, give resentful stares.

Footsteps behind the shuttered double grill.
A question asked, and then the boards fold back,
and tiny, beaming rosy-cheeked Estelle
is there to greet us, wimpled, robed in black.

On our side of the barrier, we bring
tidings of births, engagements, marriages,
and all the canticles of families:
these are the songs she wants to hear us sing.

Her own short antiphon is quickly said:
garden, and holy texts, and holy bread.
Here she has lived for over forty years,
worshipping God and praying for the dead.

The gift we bring her is the tenderness
of children, whom she sees but cannot hold.
The gift she makes to us is innocence,
which we can neither parcel nor enfold.

– David Morphet 2003