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Personent Hodie


Personent hodie voces puerulae ...

– Christmas hymn, XIIIth c.


There's a medieval carol that belongs

to boys; it never was a song for men—

who plow through hymns with voices ten-ox-strong

—but boys, who sing it once or twice and then,

Christmas gone, the choir and the songs

are quiet ... Until January, when,


on Sundays, indoor soccer games replace

the Holsteins at the fairground.  Soccer noises

jar the Cattle Building; parents bray,

buzzers reverberate, a coach rejoices,

boards and bleachers bang, balls ricochet,

and everything is discord; but the boys,

weaving, blocking, scoring, also raise

—in patter passed from boy to boy—their voices.


Just this September, the shire horses drilled

in this arena.  Here, the bulls and cows

waited beside the big slow Belgians thilled

and yoked as if to pull a painted plow

out of a book of hours—where they tilled

a harder field than this, resounding now


with boys whose descants echo from the roofs—

whose shouts and flickering footwork will be gone

as quickly as the teams of heavy hooves

that plodded autumn—gone with the plows once drawn

in springtime into long medieval grooves

by Clydesdales and by quiet Percherons:

Eight-year olds, they move the way time moves

and change as quickly as their antiphons.


Deborah Warren



(c) 2000; originally printed in Slant.  Reprinted by
permission of the author.

Background by Ariel

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