Befana: A Bedtime Story

By David Yezzi

In Italy, a woman, we are told,
screwed up her chance to ride to Bethlehem
with the Wise Men for the first Epiphany
(though why they rode that way remains unclear).

Poor gal, she missed her ship, as we’d have done,
or as we have done many times before—
despondent on the quay in diesel smoke,
as our liner steams for warmer latitudes.

In Sunday school, when I was young, I learned
that the beggar in the park was Jesus Christ,
as was Aunt Faith who hid her cigarettes
and whose butt-ends were ringed with blood-red O’s.

That’s just to say He’s not so hard to miss:
I still avoid each handout with a wave,
and I never overcame my childish dread
of Aunt Faith’s lipstick and nicotine-stale breath.

So here’s Befana, who finally figures out
the colossal botch she’s made of her long life
(it might have been so different, you see).
She leaves her peasant shack at Christmastime

to stuff strange children’s stockings full of sweets.
(Sorry angel, Daddy didn’t mean
to hold so tight. I like to give you kisses.)
And so Befana, you know what she does?

She visits little girls while they’re in bed,
and leaves them candy in their winter socks,
and that’s why now your stocking’s hanging up.
Tonight she’ll come while you’re asleep, and when

she’s hidden a new toy or foiled surprise
she’ll draw close, as close as I am now,
and in your sleeping face (don’t be afraid)
she’ll keep watch for the sleeping face of God.

David Yezzi’s poems are forthcoming in The Atlantic, The Best American Poetry, and elsewhere, and have recently appeared in Poetry  and The Yale Review.

Please follow our Commentary Guidelines when engaging in discussion on this site.