Friday, December 4, 2020

Get Me Through December

In September of 2011 my family experienced the loss of a family member in a violent and shocking manner. The trauma of this event reverberates to this day in the lives of my two adult children. Needless to say, Christmas that particular year was very painful, as each holiday since has been. The festivities that accompany each Christmas season which are intended to lift spirits instead create a painful emotional dichotomy because although time passes and healing slowly presents itself, the pain and sense of loss remains. Similarly, a friend of mine lost a young son to a drug overdose five years ago, after years of dealing with the darkness of addiction. Since that time Christmas has become something to be endured, rather than enjoyed. Another close friend lost a daughter to cancer in the fall of 2018 and has had to reimagine Christmas since that time.

Although these are extreme examples of loss, they are not uncommon. But even if one has not endured a personal tragedy of some type, many, many people live with chronic depression and anxiety, day in and day out. Ironically, the holidays inevitably stir up deep and latent pain and longing for many, made more difficult by the societal pressure to feel “happy” and “joyful” and spread the “Christmas spirit”. 

Tonight, on W&M we will give voice to the struggle faced by many during the Christmas and holiday season, through a group of poems that are honest and insightful, and music that expresses what words cannot. 

Some may ask, “why focus on the negative?” or “life is difficult enough, so why dwell on pain and make it worse, especially at this time of the year?” These are fair questions. My response is simply this: loss, pain and longing are all part of human existence, whether acknowledged or not. I’ll go further. There are gifts that come with depression and pain, in the form of a deeper appreciation of beauty, for example. Music resonates more intensely within the soul that knows pain as well as it knows ecstasy. We all carry some emptiness within; emptiness that we sometimes try to fill with activity, or pleasure, or food, or alcohol or drugs, anything to distract from the pain, remedies that ultimately do not deliver. I believe that this emptiness within is sacred. A sense of emptiness and longing opens us to the healing powers of music, literature, deep friendships and love, passion, empathy,  and the ability to do good work. This sacred emptiness is what tonight’s program is directed to. 

Elegy Beginning with a Text from My Brother
By Molly Spencer

how was the snow

As if the snow were a province I'd visited,
not a season come down upon me. As if
he'd never stood on the ridge and watched

the whole cloth of it blow in
over the lake,
blank and bridal.

Any mark I'd made on the earth, it annulled:
the dropped map, the poor footprints of children,
the felts I pulled from their boots hoping they'd dry

by morning. The snow was a field
I woke in.
Here are the drifts
of my ribs for proof, here is my heart

gone to windbreak. Brother, I am tired
of living bone-bound and uphill, of rolling through stops
to keep from getting stuck.

The snow was irrevocable, songless.

A relic. The ruins
of the wood.

I made my way home
by ditch and by deadfall,
all night laid awake in the storm
listening for the scrape
of the plow gone by, waiting
for the blade and my body

to change the snow's tense
from falling and falling
to fell.

From If the house by Molly Spencer. Reprinted by permission of the University of Wisconsin Press. © 2019 All rights reserved. Originally from The Georgia Review, Volume LXXII, No. 3&4 (Fall/Winter 2018)



Out of the bosom of the Air,
Out of the cloud-folds of her garments shaken,
Over the woodlands brown and bare,
Over the harvest-fields forsaken,
Silent, and soft, and slow
Descends the snow.

Even as our cloudy fancies take
Suddenly shape in some divine expression,
Even as the troubled heart doth make
In the white countenance confession,
The troubled sky reveals
The grief it feels.

This is the poem of the air,
Slowly in silent syllables recorded;
This is the secret of despair,
Long in its cloudy bosom hoarded,
Now whispered and revealed
To wood and field.

Christmas Away from Home


Her sickness brought me to Connecticut.
Mornings I walk the dog: that part of life
is intact. Who's painted, who's insulated
or put siding on, who's burned the lawn
with lime—that's the news on Ardmore Street.

The leaves of the neighbor's respectable
rhododendrons curl under in the cold.
He has backed the car
through the white nimbus of its exhaust
and disappeared for the day.

In the hiatus between mayors
the city has left leaves in the gutters,
and passing cars lift them in maelstroms.

We pass the house two doors down, the one
with the wildest lights in the neighborhood,
an establishment without irony.
All summer their putto empties a water jar,
their St. Francis feeds the birds.
Now it's angels, festoons, waist-high
candles, and swans pulling sleighs.

Two hundred miles north I'd let the dog
run among birches and the black shade of pines.
I miss the hills, the woods and stony
streams, where the swish of jacket sleeves
against my sides seems loud, and a crow
caws sleepily at dawn.

By now the streams must run under a skin
of ice, white air-bubbles passing erratically,
like blood cells through a vein. Soon the mail,
forwarded, will begin to reach me here.

"Christmas Away from Home" by Jane Kenyon from Collected Poems. Copyright © 2005 by the Estate of Jane Kenyon. Reprinted with permission of Graywolf Press,

First Frost
By Maggie DeCapua

This morning,
I watched the temperature
sink below forty degrees
for the first time
since May in Montreal,
so seeing my breath
as I spoke to you
felt safe, as though
our words are all
we watched them drift
towards the sky with
the morning mist
rolling off the mountains,

Driving home I watched the minutes
tick by, feeling the hot processed air
on my face
from your car’s heaters.
it smelled like
December: snowfall and
salted caramel mochas.

As the signs of winter reach
their bare-branch boney fingers
out to me,
I join hands with the cold. Each
passing season
spins spirals, pulling me away
from the fragments
of memories
beneath the snow.

From “a fear of the dark”, reprinted with permission.

Get Me Through December
By Fred Lavery & Gordie Sampson

How pale is the sky that brings forth the rain
As the changing of seasons prepares me again
For the long bitter nights and the wild winter's day
My heart has grown cold, my love stored away
My heart has grown cold, my love stored away
I've been to the mountain, left my tracks in the snow
Where souls have been lost and the walking wounded go
I've taken the pain no girl should endure
Faith can move mountains; of that I am sure
But faith can move mountains; of that I am sure
Just get me through December
A promise I'll remember
Get me through December
So I can start again
No divine purpose brings freedom from sin
And peace is a gift that must come from within
I've looked for the love that will bring me to rest
Feeding this hunger beating strong in my chest
Feeding this hunger beating strong in my chest
Get me through December
A promise I'll remember
Get me through December
So I can start again

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