Saturday, December 24, 2016


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, Ella Fitzgerald, and O Tannenbaum, performed by Dave Brubeck

Saturday, December 17, 2016

More Winter Poetry

Christmas Trees

By William Logan b. 1950  

How should I now recall

the icy lace of the pane

like a sheet of cellophane,

or the skies of alcohol

poured over the saltbox town?

On that stony New England tableau,

the halo of falling snow

glared like a waxy crown.

Through blue frozen lots

my giant parents strolled,

wrapped tight against the cold

like woolen Argonauts,

searching for that tall

perfection of Scotch pine

from the hundreds laid in line

like the dead at Guadalcanal.

The clapboard village aglow

that starry stark December

I barely now remember,

or the brutish ache of snow

burning my face like quicklime.

Yet one thing was still missing.

I saw my parents kissing,

perhaps for the last time.
REFLECTIVE MUSIC: O Tannenbaum, arranged by Dave Brubeck

The Snow Fairy

By Claude McKay 1889–1948   

Throughout the afternoon I watched them there, 

Snow-fairies falling, falling from the sky, 

Whirling fantastic in the misty air, 

Contending fierce for space supremacy. 

And they flew down a mightier force at night, 

As though in heaven there was revolt and riot, 

And they, frail things had taken panic flight 

Down to the calm earth seeking peace and quiet. 

I went to bed and rose at early dawn 

To see them huddled together in a heap, 

Each merged into the other upon the lawn, 

Worn out by the sharp struggle, fast asleep. 

The sun shone brightly on them half the day, 

By night they stealthily had stol’n away


And suddenly my thoughts then turned to you 

Who came to me upon a winter’s night, 

When snow-sprites round my attic window flew, 

Your hair disheveled, eyes aglow with light. 

My heart was like the weather when you came, 

The wanton winds were blowing loud and long; 

But you, with joy and passion all aflame, 

You danced and sang a lilting summer song. 

I made room for you in my little bed, 

Took covers from the closet fresh and warm, 

A downful pillow for your scented head, 

And lay down with you resting in my arm. 

You went with Dawn. You left me ere the day, 

The lonely actor of a dreamy play.

REFLECTIVE MUSIC: The Snow Is Dancing by Claude Debussy


By Robert Frost 1874–1963 

Out through the fields and the woods

   And over the walls I have wended;

I have climbed the hills of view

   And looked at the world, and descended;

I have come by the highway home,

   And lo, it is ended.

The leaves are all dead on the ground,

   Save those that the oak is keeping

To ravel them one by one

   And let them go scraping and creeping

Out over the crusted snow,

   When others are sleeping.

And the dead leaves lie huddled and still,

   No longer blown hither and thither;

The last lone aster is gone;

   The flowers of the witch hazel wither;

The heart is still aching to seek,

   But the feet question ‘Whither?’

Ah, when to the heart of man

   Was it ever less than a treason

To go with the drift of things,

   To yield with a grace to reason,

And bow and accept the end

   Of a love or a season?
REFLECTIVE MUSIC: Now, O Now, I Needs Must Part by John Dowland

Winter Stars

By Sara Teasdale 1884–1933 

I went out at night alone;

 The young blood flowing beyond the sea

Seemed to have drenched my spirit’s wings—

 I bore my sorrow heavily.

But when I lifted up my head

 From shadows shaken on the snow,

I saw Orion in the east

 Burn steadily as long ago.

From windows in my father’s house,

 Dreaming my dreams on winter nights,

I watched Orion as a girl

 Above another city’s lights.

Years go, dreams go, and youth goes too,

 The world’s heart breaks beneath its wars,

All things are changed, save in the east

 The faithful beauty of the stars.
REFLECTIVE MUSIC: How Brightly Shines the Morning Star


By William Baer b. 1948 

Timing’s everything. The vapor rises

high in the sky, tossing to and fro,

then freezes, suddenly, and crystalizes

into a perfect flake of miraculous snow.

For countless miles, drifting east above

the world, whirling about in a swirling free-

for-all, appearing aimless, just like love,

but sensing, seeking out, its destiny.

Falling to where the two young skaters stand,

hand in hand, then flips and dips and whips

itself about to ever-so-gently land,

a miracle, across her unkissed lips:

as he blocks the wind raging from the south,

leaning forward to kiss her lovely mouth.
REFLECTIVE MUSIC:Winter (from "The Four Seasons") by Alexander Glazunov

Saturday, December 10, 2016

Music & Dance

1. THE DANCE by C. K. Williams

A middle-aged woman, quite plain, to be polite about it, and
somewhat stout, to be more courteous still,
but when she and the rather good-looking, much younger man
she's with get up to dance,
her forearm descends with such delicate lightness, such restrained
but confident ardor athwart his shoulder,
drawing him to her with such a firm, compelling warmth, and
moving him with effortless grace
into the union she's instantly established with the not at all
rhythmically solid music in this second-rate cafe,

that something in the rest of us, some doubt about ourselves, some 
sad conjecture, seems to be allayed,
nothing that we'd ever thought of as a real lack, nothing not to be
admired or be repentant for,
but something to which we've never adequately given credence,
which might have consoling implications about how we 
misbelieve ourselves, and so the world,
that world beyond us which so often disappoints, but which
sometimes shows us, lovely, what we are.

REFLECTIVE MUSIC: Slow Waltz (from "Brazilian Impressions" ) by Clarice Assad.

2. SONNET 128 by William Shakespeare
How oft, when thou, my music, music play'st,

Upon that blessed wood whose motion sounds
With thy sweet fingers, when thou gently sway'st
The wiry concord that mine ear confounds,
Do I envy those jacks that nimble leap
To kiss the tender inward of thy hand,
Whilst my poor lips, which should that harvest reap,
At the wood's boldness by thee blushing stand!
To be so tickled, they would change their state
And situation with those dancing chips,
O'er whom thy fingers walk with gentle gait,
Making dead wood more blest than living lips.
Since saucy jacks so happy are in this,
Give them thy fingers, me thy lips to kiss. 

REFLECTIVE MUSIC: Pavan and Galliard #1 by William Byrd

3. EVENING MUSIC by May Sarton
We enter this evening as we enter a quartet
Listening again for its particular note
The interval where all seems possible,
Order within time when action is suspended
And we are pure in heart, perfect in will.
We enter the evening whole and well-defended
But at the quick of self, intense detachment
That is a point of burning far from passion––
And this, we know, is what we always meant
And even love must learn it in some fashion,
To move like formal music through the heart,
To be achieved like some high difficult art.

We enter the evening as we enter a quartet
Listening again for its particular note
Which is your note perhaps, your special gift,
A detached joy that flowers and makes bloom
The longest silence in the silent room––
And there would be no music if you left.

REFELCTIVE MUSIC: Four Pieces for String Quartet by Felix Mendelssohn

4. PIANO LESSONS by Billy Collins
My teacher lies on the floor with a bad back
off to the side of the piano.
I sit up straight on the stool.
He begins by telling me that every key
is like a different room
and I am a blind man who must learn
to walk through all twelve of them
without hitting the furniture.
I feel myself reach for the first doorknob.

He tells me that every scale has a shape
and I have to learn how to hold
each one in my hands.
At home I practice with my eyes closed.
C is an open book.
D is a vase with two handles.
G flat is a black boot.
E has the legs of a bird.

He says the scale is the mother of the chords.
I can see her pacing the bedroom floor
waiting for her children to come home.
They are out at nightclubs shading and lighting
all the songs while couples dance slowly
or stare at one another across tables.
This is the way it must be. After all,
just the right chord can bring you to tears
but no one listens to the scales,
no one listens to their mother.

I am doing my scales,
the familiar anthems of childhood.
My fingers climb the ladder of notes
and come back down without turning around.
Anyone walking under this open window
would picture a girl of about ten
sitting at the keyboard with perfect posture,
not me slumped over in my bathrobe, disheveled,
like a white Horace Silver.

I am learning to play
“It Might As Well Be Spring”
but my left hand would rather be jingling
the change in the darkness of my pocket
or taking a nap on an armrest.
I have to drag him in to the music
like a difficult and neglected child.
This is the revenge of the one who never gets
to hold the pen or wave good-bye,
and now, who never gets to play the melody.
Even when I am not playing, I think about the piano.
It is the largest, heaviest,
and most beautiful object in this house.
I pause in the doorway just to take it all in.
And late at night I picture it downstairs,
this hallucination standing on three legs,
this curious beast with its enormous moonlit smile

REFLECTIVE MUSIC: Prelude in C by J.S. Bach

5. A MUSIC by Wendell Berry

I employ the blind mandolin player
in the the tunnel of the M├Ętro. I pay him
a coin as hard as his notes,
and maybe he has employed me, and pays me
with his playing to hear him play.

Maybe we're necessary to each other,
and this vacant place has need of us both
––it's vacant, I mean, of dwellers,
is populated by passages and absences.

By some fate or knack he has chosen
to place his music in this cavity
where there's nothing to look at
and blindness costs him nothing.
Nothing was here before he came.

His music goes out among the sounds
of footsteps passing. The tunnel is the resonance
and meaning of what he plays.
It's his music, not the place, I go by.

In this light which is just a fact, like darkness
or the edge or end of what you may be
going toward, he turns his cap up on his knees
and leaves it there to ask and wait, and holds up
his mandolin, the lantern of his world;

his fingers make their pattern on the wires.
This is not the pursuing of rhythm
of a blind cane pecking in the sun,
but is a singing in a dark place.

REFLECTIVE MUSIC: Concerto for Two Mandolins by Antonio Vivaldi