Saturday, December 23, 2017

Christmas (December 22, 2017)

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.

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.

Messiah (Christmas Portions)

By Mark Doty b. 1953

A little heat caught

in gleaming rags,

in shrouds of veil,

torn and sun-shot swaddlings:

over the Methodist roof,

two clouds propose a Zion

of their own, blazing

(colors of tarnish on copper

against the steely close

of a coastal afternoon, December,

while under the steeple

the Choral Society

prepares to perform

Messiah, pouring, in their best

blacks and whites, onto the raked stage.

Not steep, really,

but from here,

the first pew, they’re a looming

cloudbank of familiar angels:

that neighbor who

fights operatically

with her girlfriend, for one,

and the friendly bearded clerk

from the post office

—tenor trapped

in the body of a baritone? Altos

from the A&P, soprano

from the T-shirt shop:

today they’re all poise,

costume and purpose

conveying the right note

of distance and formality.

Silence in the hall,

anticipatory, as if we’re all

about to open a gift we’re not sure

we’ll like;

how could they

compete with sunset’s burnished

oratorio? Thoughts which vanish,

when the violins begin.

Who’d have thought

they’d be so good? Every valley,

proclaims the solo tenor,

(a sleek blonde

I’ve seen somewhere before

—the liquor store?) shall be exalted,

and in his handsome mouth the word

is lifted and opened

into more syllables

than we could count, central ah

dilated in a baroque melisma,

liquefied; the pour

of voice seems

to make the unplaned landscape

the text predicts the Lord

will heighten and tame.

This music

demonstrates what it claims:

glory shall be revealed. If art’s

acceptable evidence,

mustn’t what lies

behind the world be at least

as beautiful as the human voice?

The tenors lack confidence,

and the soloists,

half of them anyway, don’t

have the strength to found

the mighty kingdoms

these passages propose

—but the chorus, all together,

equals my burning clouds,

and seems itself to burn,

commingled powers

deeded to a larger, centering claim.

These aren’t anyone we know;

choiring dissolves

familiarity in an up-

pouring rush which will not

rest, will not, for a moment,

be still.

Aren’t we enlarged

by the scale of what we’re able

to desire? Everything,

the choir insists,

might flame;

inside these wrappings

burns another, brighter life,

quickened, now,

by song: hear how

it cascades, in overlapping,

lapidary waves of praise? Still time.

Still time to change.


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.

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.

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