Only they knew why they came.
No one else brought a baby
or even a 12-year-old to this temple,
its pilgrimage not for the weak
of heart—or back,
the poor, or claustrophobic.
He carried the stroller like a shield,
its wobbly wheels blunt muskets
in the backs of those he pushed along.
She carried the fussy bundle in the crush
moving like the undead toward the shrine.
Her babe refused to comply with “Silenzio!”
guards outshouting its cries with orders
the Madonna with Child found
unwelcome as usual in public places.
Each call of a guard, each response
from the swaddled blanket made
this threesome more compelling
than the cherub and virgin mother
sculpted in these sacred spaces,
the pictures I’d come to see—
more like the young family that night
in Bethlehem who couldn’t get past
slamming doors, no room for the poor,
no patience for need, dismissed by vendors
so busy counting coins
they missed the birth that changed history.
Troubled by all I had seen and not seen,
I followed the frazzled family outside
and looked to the sky for a star in the East.