Humanist Voices in Verse: Joseph The Carpenter

This week we’re pleased to publish “Joseph The Carpenter” by HNN Poetry Editor Daniel Thomas Moran. He served as Poet Laureate of Suffolk County, New York from 2005 to 2007. His work has appeared in The New York Times, National Forum, and the Poetry Salzburg Review. He is a Clinical Assistant Professor at Boston University’s School of Dental Medicine. His website is

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Joseph The Carpenter

Joseph was a carpenter,
in a world of few trees,
and with a left thumb nearly
always some shade of blue.

It was that whimsical dealer of destiny,
who came to call upon him
in those last months B.C., while
he perplexed over a set of bookshelves,
and spake to him (as only He could spake),
that The Almighty had a job for him.
Well, more like a favor to ask.
Would he mind in Joseph’s new bride, Mary
(whom he had yet to coax into consummation)
did bear Him a son, and would Joseph
(or Joe as The Creator liked to call him)
mind raising the lad as his own
no questions asked?

Then Joseph,
who had as recently as the day before
refused to loan his favorite saw
to his next door neighbor, said,
“Lord, I am a simple man,
as you probably know, but
I did not just roll into town
on an oxcart full of dung and
as you have probably heard,
my wife Mary is yet a virgin, and…”

The Divine One stopped him in his tracks
saying, “Fear not Joe, for I will not so much
as lay a single hand upon her and
perhaps I could get the temple down the block
to throw you a little business.”

And Joseph, being a simple, God-fearing man
and who remembered the tales of Job
and his boils and of  the sky raining
locusts and hot coals on Cairo (and
whose business had been off a bit
since those nasty, garlic soaked Romans
confiscated all of the wood) decided
What the Hell?
And The Lord was pleased that
He did not have to go through planning
another round of plagues and pestilence.

The months passed quickly, and
Mary, the wife of Joseph grew and grew
and grew some more until
it looked as though she were
concealing a medicine ball
beneath her maternity cloaks.
Then one day in December, while
he was flailing away on a
magazine rack for the temple lounge,
he heard once more the voice
of Him who sounded like James Earl Jones.
“Today will come notice that you must
return to Bethlehem to be counted in the census.
Do this quickly and without fear, for
I have made you reservations.”

And so……
Joseph placed his wife atop a hearty burro,
and dragged them both across the desert
back to his old stomping ground,
where he had not been since
his ten year reunion at Bethlehem High.
When they arrived at The Inn, the clerk said
(with a distinctly cynical snicker) that
he had not reservations for anyone
named Joseph and The Virgin Mary,
and that he was sure there could not
be a bed had for miles.

And Joseph, upon hearing that news,
was not a happy man though
he was not as miserable as the burro.
Mary, like a good Jewish wife,
never complained, but made Joseph aware
that she clearly saw virginity in her future.
When she heard that she would
have to be giving birth in a barn,
surrounded  by sweaty sheep and camel breath,
things almost got ugly, but
she was so tired of all the clunkety-clunk
and that baby bouncing on her bladder
that she decided, for once, to let it slide.

And so……
The Lord God Almighty sent down
a host of heavenly angels with yard long trumpets
to herald the birth of his only begotten son,
though Mary felt that a nice bouquet
and a box of chocolates would have been fine.
And Joseph was also impressed by
the power and the majesty of The God of Ages,
although he would have passed it all up for a cot.

People came from all around
to visit the newborn Jesus, named for
Joseph’s favorite Big League shortstop.
And Joseph was happy to have a son
(or stepson as it were) and tickled
with the gifts of  gold and frankincense
(though he planned to return the myhrr
for something else when they
got back to Nazareth).

And Mary, the Mother of Jesus, was
happy to have pulled the whole things off.
And when she had finally gotten rid of
that annoying kid with the drum who
had really gotten her head pounding,
said what every good Jewish Mother knows,
“When you’ve got your health, you’ve got everything.”

And so……
They finally high-tailed it out of Bethlehem,
(which was The Cleveland of Mesopotamia)
and returned again to their happy home.
Jesus became the first flower child,
practicing parlor tricks and slight of hand
in his spare time.
They say, Mary remained a Virgin and
Joseph went on building chachkas
for the temple lounge and continued
whacking his thumb, getting credit
for coining the phrase,
“Jesus H. Christmas, did that smart!”

—–Daniel Thomas Moran