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Star of Bethlehem
We called it that when we were very young,
before we'd learned about epiphanies
through Father's crackly 78, sung
by Richard Crooks, the school nativities,
the "sorrowing, sighing, bleeding
dying" of our Colleen Bawn carol choir –
beer-soaked bass, and baritone receding,
sopranos launched by Aunty Nola's higher
than hyena halleluia – all these
were pretty damn close to epiphanies.

My mother banned it from the flower beds;
to her it ranked with stinkblaar as a chronic
garden weed: the glossy leaves, the flat heads
in white and purple, smelling of tonic,
she did not hesitate to destroy. She
called them them "missionary plants", the housewives'
bane. Yet these flowers of nativity
which, healers claim, are saving many lives:
curing cancer and Hodgkin's disease,
are pretty close to epiphanies.

It took one long day to dig that bunker.
I broke the handle of my spade. The ground
was rock hard. Nothing grew there but paper
thorns and, wonderfully: five petals, round
and white and smelling of tonic, opened flat
against the sky: a Star of Bethlehem.
I picked it and stuffed it in my combat
jacket on top of a phosphorous bomb.
I want to tell you: moments such as these
are pretty damn close to epiphanies.

Editor's Note: Star of Bethlehem – Vinca major, a hardy plant from Madagascar with medicinal properties.