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

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