Posted by: Mark Nielsen | January 5, 2010

Bethlehem Lost (A poetic gift for Orthodox & Coptic Christmas Eve)

Tuesday is Christmas Eve for Eastern Orthodox, Coptic and several other Christian traditions (also, Jan. 6=Epiphany for Roman Catholics and others) . So in honor of these celebrations– and because God poked me to say “Post this”– I present the new poem below.

BTW, for a fantastic OLD poem about Epiphany, the Wise Men and Christmas, check out T.S. Eliot’s Journey of the Magi, from 1927.

Now,  Kala Christougena! …and on to my poem:

Bethlehem Lost   by Mark Nielsen

In the original Hebrew,

Beth lehem means “house of bread”.

And the Bread of Life did come from there.

(The Arabs call it “house of meat”–

ironic, for He was all three: bread, meat, life…

also known as Father, Son, Spirit.)

Then the British came to Palestine,

made a royal mess of the city,

and named –of all things –

a London psychiatric hospital after it.

The poor Cockneys who feared madness

called it Bet-lem.

The British nobles–

who could afford to keep their madness at home

behind closed doors,

to spare themselves embarrassment –

stole something else from the poor

and invented a new word for this madness:


In America, we have a nearly dead steeltown

that went back to the original name:

Bethlehem, PA.

It didn’t work.

The Bethlehem plants still closed.

And the houses of miners and houses of steelworkers

didn’t have much bread left in them.

Not much life, either.

And the original town where my Lord was born

has had nothing but senseless bloodshed

since Herod first slaughtered the innocents.

Where are those wise men now that we need them?

                                              -by Mark Nielsen,  January 5, 2009


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