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