Saturday, December 22, 2012

Poems about Christmas: Playlist for December 21, 2012

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


The Oxen

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


December Substitute

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.

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