Speak to Us
By Katie Ford
For all of my years, I’ve read only living signs—
bodies in jealousy, bodies in battle,
bodies growing disease like mushroom coral.
It is tiresome, tiresome, describing
fir cones waiting for fires to catch their human ribs
into some slow, future forest.
My beloved, he tires of me, and he should—
my complaints the same, his recourse
the same, invoking the broad, cool sheet suffering drapes
over the living freeze of heart after heart,
and never by that heart’s fault—the heart did not make itself,
the face did not fashion its jutting jawbone
to wail across the plains or beg the bare city.
I will no longer tally the broken, ospreyed oceans,
the figs that outlived summer
or the tedious mineral angles and
their suction of light.
Have you died? Then speak.
You must see the living
are too small as they are,
lonesome for more
and in varieties of pain
only you can bring into right view.
REFLECTIVE MUSIC: O Magnum Mysterium by William Byrd
By Thomas Hardy 1840–1928
Christmas Eve, and twelve of the clock.
“Now they are all on their knees,”
An elder said as we sat in a flock
By the embers in hearthside ease.
We pictured the meek mild creatures where
They dwelt in their strawy pen,
Nor did it occur to one of us there
To doubt they were kneeling then.
So fair a fancy few would weave
In these years! Yet, I feel,
If someone said on Christmas Eve,
“Come; see the oxen kneel,
“In the lonely barton by yonder coomb
Our childhood used to know,”
I should go with him in the gloom,
Hoping it might be so.
REFLECTIVE MUSIC: Nativity Carol by John Rutter
To Mrs K____, On Her Sending Me an English Christmas Plum-Cake at Paris
By Helen Maria Williams 1761–1827
What crowding thoughts around me wake,
What marvels in a Christmas-cake!
Ah say, what strange enchantment dwells
Enclosed within its odorous cells?
Is there no small magician bound
Encrusted in its snowy round?
For magic surely lurks in this,
A cake that tells of vanished bliss;
A cake that conjures up to view
The early scenes, when life was new;
When memory knew no sorrows past,
And hope believed in joys that last! —
Mysterious cake, whose folds contain
Life’s calendar of bliss and pain;
That speaks of friends for ever fled,
And wakes the tears I love to shed.
Oft shall I breathe her cherished name
From whose fair hand the offering came:
For she recalls the artless smile
Of nymphs that deck my native isle;
Of beauty that we love to trace,
Allied with tender, modest grace;
Of those who, while abroad they roam,
Retain each charm that gladdens home,
And whose dear friendships can impart
A Christmas banquet for the heart!
REFLECTIVE MUSIC: Fantasia on Christmas Carols by Ralph Vaughan Williams
By Mary Jo Salter b. 1954
Wind whistling, as it does
in winter, and I think
nothing of it until
it snaps a shutter off
her bedroom window, spins
it over the roof and down
to crash on the deck in back,
like something out of Oz.
We look up, stunned—then glad
to be safe and have a story,
characters in a fable
we only half-believe.
Look, in my surprise
I somehow split a wall,
the last one in the house
we’re making of gingerbread.
We’ll have to improvise:
prop the two halves forward
like an open double door
and with a tube of icing
cement them to the floor.
Five days until Christmas,
and the house cannot be closed.
When she peers into the cold
interior we’ve exposed,
she half-expects to find
three magi in the manger,
a mother and her child.
She half-expects to read
on tablets of gingerbread
a line or two of Scripture,
as she has every morning
inside a dated shutter
on her Advent calendar.
She takes it from the mantel
and coaxes one fingertip
under the perforation,
as if her future hinges
on not tearing off the flap
under which a thumbnail picture
by Raphael or Giorgione,
Hans Memling or David
of apses, niches, archways,
cradles a smaller scene
of a mother and her child,
of the lidded jewel-box
of Mary’s downcast eyes.
Flee into Egypt, cries
the angel of the Lord
to Joseph in a dream,
for Herod will seek the young
child to destroy him. While
she works to tile the roof
with shingled peppermints,
I wash my sugared hands
and step out to the deck
to lug the shutter in,
a page torn from a book
still blank for the two of us,
a mother and her child.
REFLECTIVE MUSIC: Dream Children by Edward Elgar
By Kenn Nesbitt b. 1962
Our substitute is strange because
he looks a lot like Santa Claus.
In fact, the moment he walked in
we thought that he was Santa’s twin.
We wouldn’t think it quite so weird,
if it were just his snowy beard.
But also he has big black boots
and wears these fuzzy bright red suits.
He’s got a rather rounded gut
that’s like a bowl of you-know-what.
And when he laughs, it’s deep and low
and sounds a lot like “Ho! Ho! Ho!”
He asks us all if we’ve been good
and sleeping when we know we should.
He talks of reindeers, sleighs, and elves
and tells us to behave ourselves.
And when it’s time for us to go
he dashes out into the snow.
But yesterday we figured out
just what our sub is all about.
We know just why he leaves so quick,
and why he’s dressed like Old Saint Nick
in hat and coat and boots and all:
He's working evenings at the mall.
REFLECTIVE MUSIC: Santa Claus is Coming to Town performed by Bill Evans, Ella Fitzgerald, and O Tannenbaum, performed by Dave Brubeck