Bitter Perfume

by Gifford Savage

They travelled a long way with their gifts:
Gold to honour a king.
Frankincense to worship.
Myrrh to anoint a body.

Embalming spice is such a strange gift for a baby.
A foreshadowing of what is to come?
A reminder that this child was born into a world of violence,
cruelty and lies?
Herod’s world. Where life is cheap.
Tyrant, filicidal uxoricidist,  
intoxicated with power,
stopping at nothing to keep it.
Ordering a massacre of innocents, 
for paranoid fear of one little child.

This is the world into which Emmanuel was born. 
This is the world he came to save
It’s the same world.
Where too many children are still in danger. 
Where Herod’s successors rise and fall.
Where the shadow of a cross hangs over a manger crib.
Where the bitter perfume of myrrh is a fitting gift.
At the end, women will go to his tomb to anoint him.
But he is not there.
This is the gift that is never used.

Gifford Savage is from Bangor, Northern Ireland. His poetry has appeared in a number of journals, including Poetry NI, Lagan Online, Poetry 24, The Bangor Literary Journal, The New Verse News, the 2022 anthology ‘Across the Threshold’ and previously in Agape Review. He has performed his poetry on local television station ‘Northern Visions TV’ and was winner of the Aspects Festival Poetry Slam 2022.

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