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Archive for December, 2007

Toward the Winter Solstice

Although the roof is just a story high,

It dizzies me a little to look down.

I lariat-twirl the cord of Christmas lights

And cast it to the weeping birch’s crown;

A dowel into which I’ve screwed a hook

Enables me to reach, lift, drape, and twine

The cord among the boughs so that the bulbs

Will accent the tree’s elegant design.

Friends, passing home from work or shopping, pause

And call up commendations or critiques.

I make adjustments. Though a potpourri

Of Muslims, Christians, Buddhists, Jews, and Sikhs,

We all are conscious of the time of year;

We all enjoy its colorful displays

And keep some festival that mitigates

The dwindling warmth and compass of the days.

Some say that L.A. doesn’t suit the Yule,

But UPS vans now like magi make

Their present-laden rounds, while fallen leaves

Are gaily resurrected in their wake;

The desert lifts a full moon from the east

And issues a dry Santa Ana breeze,

And valets at chic restaurants will soon

Be tending flocks of cars and SUVs.

And as the neighborhoods sink into dusk

The fan palms scattered all across town stand

More calmly prominent, and this place seems

A vast oasis in the Holy Land.

This house might be a caravansary,

The tree a kind of cordial fountainhead

Of welcome, looped and decked with necklaces

And ceintures of green, yellow, blue, and red.

Some wonder if the star of Bethlehem

Occurred when Jupiter and Saturn crossed;

It’s comforting to look up from this roof

And feel that, while all changes, nothing’s lost,

To recollect that in antiquity

The winter solstice fell in Capricorn

And that, in the Orion Nebula,

From swirling gas, new stars are being born.

-Timothy Steele

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Resonance

I am the Everyman. The Lead in The Play.
The everything, the everyone and the unsung.
I am Saffron, Empirical Description.

“What boredom falls upon my eyes and ears, as hearing that for one more
chapter, I will have to describe my day to all of you, my loyal
readers.”

“It’s essential, I guess, to know who I am, or at least know what I
look like, what I’m doing, what I’m wearing or what I’m not wearing.”

“How should I start: “Once upon a time”?
Such is the usual rhetoric of a faerie tale.
But this isn’t that. This isn’t anything except my perceptions.”

What I see.
What I hear.
Is red so red?
To me it is.
and brown the same,
but different still.
Why grass is green.
Why in a dream?
What if that’s wrong?
And Blue.

Every good book always has a beginning. As if an event or a world
solely begins on page one. To try and contain worlds in any format
does an injustice.

To whom I don’t know.

Where do you interject what you already know?
If the question is why, where does when come in?
I could describe my scene: Black identical. Black identical.
Symmetrical.
The underlying universal truth is what with regards to writing, my
subconsciousness or my bag of chips?

If one could conceptualize a straight answer from either existence, how
would I say it?
Is there a language?
Until I find out, all I can tell you is what everybody already
understands

Brad Jadwin

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The Mahogany Tree

Christmas is here;
Winds whistle shrill,
Icy and chill,
Little care we;
Little we fear
Weather without,
Shelter’d about
The Mahogany Tree.

Once on the boughs
Birds of rare plume
Sang, in its bloom;
Night birds are we;
Here we carouse,
Singing, like them,
Perch’d round the stem
Of the jolly old tree.

Here let us sport,
Boys, as we sit—
Laughter and wit
Flashing so free.
Life is but short—
When we are gone,
Let them sing on,
Round the old tree.

Evenings we knew,
Happy as this;
Faces we miss,
Pleasant to see.
Kind hearts and true,
Gentle and just,
Peace to your dust!
We sing round the tree.

Care, like a dun,
Lurks at the gate:
Let the dog wait;
Happy we ’ll be!
Drink every one;
Pile up the coals,
Fill the red bowls,
Round the old tree.

Drain we the cup.—
Friend, art afraid?
Spirits are laid
In the Red Sea.
Mantle it up;
Empty it yet;
Let us forget,
Round the old tree.

Sorrows, begone!
Life and its ills,
Duns and their bills,
Bid we to flee.
Come with the dawn,
Blue-devil sprite,
Leave us to-night,
Round the old tree.

-William Makepeace Thackeray

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Notes on the Spring Holidays (excerpt)

III
Hanukkah

In a world where each man must be of use
and each thing useful, the rebellious Jews
light not one light but eight–
not to see by but to look at.

-Charles Reznikoff

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Meditations on the Fall and Winter Holidays
I
New Year’s

The solid houses in the mist
are thin as tissue paper;
the water laps slowly at the rocks;
and the ducks from the north are here
at rest on the grey ripples.

The company in which we went
so free of care, so carelessly,
has scattered. Good-bye,
to you who lie behind in graves,
to you who galloped proudly off!
Pockets and heart are empty.

This is the autumn and our harvest–
such as it is, such as it is–
the beginnings of the end, bare trees and barren ground;
but for us only the beginning:
let the wild goat’s horn and the silver trumpet sound!

Reason upon reason
to be thankful:
for the fruit of the earth,
for the fruit of the tree,
for the light of the fire,
and to have come to this season.

The work of our hearts is dust
to be blown about in the winds
by the God of our dead in the dust
but our Lord delighting in life
(let the wild goat’s horn
and the silver trumpet sound!)
our God Who imprisons in coffin and grave
and unbinds the bound.

You have loved us greatly and given us
Your laws
for an inheritance,
Your sabbaths, holidays, and seasons of gladness,
distinguishing Israel
from other nations–
distinguishing us
above the shoals of men.
And yet why should we be remembered–
if at all–only for peace, if grief
is also for all? Our hopes,
if they blossom, if they blossom at all, the petals
and fruit fall.

You have given us the strength
to serve You,
but we may serve or not
as we please;
not for peace nor for prosperity,
not even for length of life, have we merited
remembrance; remember us
as the servants
You have inherited.

II
Day of Atonement

The great Giver has ended His disposing;
the long day
is over and the gates are closing.
How badly all that has been read
was read by us,
how poorly all that should be said.

All wickedness shall go in smoke.
It must, it must!
The just shall see and be glad.
The sentence is sweet and sustaining;
for we, I suppose, are the just;
and we, the remaining.

If only I could write with four pens between five fingers
and with each pen a different sentence at the same time–
but the rabbis say it is a lost art, a lost art.
I well believe it. And at that of the first twenty sins that we confess,
five are by speech alone;
little wonder that I must ask the Lord to bless
the words of my mouth and the meditations of my heart.

Now, as from the dead, I revisit the earth and delight
in the sky, and hear again
the noise of the city and see
earth’s marvelous creatures–men.
Out of nothing I became a being,
and from a being I shall be
nothing–but until then
I rejoice, a mote in Your world,
a spark in Your seeing.

III
Feast of Booths

This was a season of our fathers’ joy:
not only when they gathered grapes and the fruit of trees
in Israel, but when, locked in the dark and stony streets,
they held–symbols of a life from which they were banished
but to which they would surely return–
the branches of palm trees and of willows, the twigs of the myrtle,
and the bright odorous citrons.

This was the grove of palms with its deep well
in the stony ghetto in the blaze of noon;
this the living stream lined with willows;
and this the thick-leaved myrtles and trees heavy with fruit
in the barren ghetto–a garden
where the unjustly hated were justly safe at last.

In booths this week of holiday
as those who gathered grapes in Israel lived
and also to remember we were cared for
in the wilderness–
I remember how frail my present dwelling is
even if of stones and steel.

I know this is the season of our joy:
we have completed the readings of the Law
and we begin again;
but I remember how slowly I have learnt, how little,
how fast the year went by, the years–how few.

IV
Hanukkah

The swollen dead fish float on the water;
the dead birds lie in the dust trampled to feathers;
the lights have been out a long time and the quick gentle hands that lit them —
rosy in the yellow tapers’ glow–
have long ago become merely nails and little bones,
and of the mouths that said the blessing and the minds that thought it
only teeth are left and skulls, shards of skulls.
By all means, then, let us have psalms
and days of dedication anew to the old causes.

Penniless, penniless, I have come with less and still less
to this place of my need and the lack of this hour.
That was a comforting word the prophet spoke:
Not by might nor by power but by My spirit, said the Lord;
comforting, indeed, for those who have neither might nor power–
for a blade of grass, for a reed.

The miracle, of course, was not that the oil for the sacred light–
in a little cruse–lasted as long as they say;
but that the courage of the Maccabees lasted to this day:
let that nourish my flickering spirit.

Go swiftly in your chariot, my fellow Jew,
you who are blessed with horses;
and I will follow as best I can afoot,
bringing with me perhaps a word or two.
Speak your learned and witty discourses
and I will utter my word or two–
not by might not by power
but by Your Spirit, Lord.

-Charles Reznikoff

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A Christmas Carol

So now is come our joyful feast,

Let every man be jolly;

Each room with ivy leaves is dressed,

And every post with holly.

Though some churls at our mirth repine,

Round your foreheads garlands twine,

Drown sorrow in a cup of wine,

And let us all be merry.

Now all our neighbors’ chimnies smoke,

And Christmas blocks are burning;

Their ovens they with baked meats choke,

And all their spits are turning.

Without the door let sorrow lie,

And if for cold it hap to die,

We’ll bury it in a Christmas pie,

And evermore be merry.

Now every lad is wondrous trim,

And no man minds his labor;

Our lasses have provided them

A bagpipe and a tabor.

Young men and maids, and girls and boys,

Give life to one another’s joys;

And you anon shall by their noise

Perceive that they are merry.

Rank misers now do sparing shun,

Their hall of music soundeth;

And dogs thence with whole shoulders run,

So all things aboundeth.

The country-folk themselves advance,

For crowdy-mutton’s come out of France;

And Jack shall pipe and Jill shall dance,

And all the town be merry.

Ned Swatch hath fetched his bands from pawn,

And all his best apparel;

Brisk Nell hath bought a ruff of lawn

With droppings of the barrel.

And those that hardly all the year

Had bread to eat or rags to wear,

Will have both clothes and dainty fare,

And all the day be merry.

Now poor men to the justices

With capons make their errands;

And if they hap to fail of these,

They plague them with their warrants.

But now they feed them with good cheer,

And what they want they take in beer,

For Christmas comes but once a year,

And then they shall be merry.

Good farmers in the country nurse

The poor, that else were undone;

Some landlords spend their money worse,

On lust and pride at London.

There the roisters they do play,

Drab and dice their land away,

Which may be ours another day;

And therefore let’s be merry.

The client now his suit forbears,

The prisoner’s heart is eased;

The debtor drinks away his cares,

And for the time is pleased.

Though others’ purses be more fat,

Why should we pine or grieve at that;

Hang sorrow, care will kill a cat,

And therefore let’s be merry.

Hark how the wags abroad do call

Each other forth to rambling;

Anon you’ll see them in the hall,

For nuts and apples scrambling;

Hark how the roofs with laughters sound,

Anon they’ll think the house goes round;

For they the cellar’s depths have found,

And there they will be merry.

The wenches with their wassail-bowls

About the streets are singing;

The boys are come to catch the owls,

The wild mare in is bringing.

Our kitchen boy hath broke his box,

And to the dealing of the ox

Our honest neighbors come by flocks,

And here they will be merry.

Now kings and queens poor sheep-cotes have,

And mate with everybody;

The honest now may play the knave,

And wise men play at noddy.

Some youths will now a mumming go,

Some others play at rowland-hoe,

And twenty other gameboys moe;

Because they will be merry.

Then wherefore in these merry days

Should we, I pray, be duller?

No, let us sing some roundelays

To make our mirth the fuller.

And whilst we thus inspired sing,

Let all the streets with echoes ring;

Woods, and hills, and everything

Bear witness we are merry.

-George Wither

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The Shivering Beggar
Near Clapham village, where fields began,
Saint Edward met a beggar man.
It was Christmas morning, the church bells tolled,
The old man trembled for the fierce cold.

Saint Edward cried, “It is monstrous sin
A beggar to lie in rags so thin!
An old gray-beard and the frost so keen:
I shall give him my fur-lined gaberdine.”

He stripped off his gaberdine of scarlet
And wrapped it round the aged varlet,
Who clutched at the folds with a muttered curse,
Quaking and chattering seven times worse.

Said Edward, “Sir, it would seem you freeze
Most bitter at your extremities.
Here are gloves and shoes and stockings also,
That warm upon your way you may go.”

The man took stocking and shoe and glove,
Blaspheming Christ our Saviour’s love,
Yet seemed to find but little relief,
Shaking and shivering like a leaf.

Said the saint again, “I have no great riches,
Yet take this tunic, take these breeches,
My shirt and my vest, take everything,
And give due thanks to Jesus the King.”

The saint stood naked upon the snow
Long miles from where he was lodged at Bowe,
Praying, “O God! my faith, it grows faint!
This would try the temper of any saint.

“Make clean my heart, Almighty, I pray,
And drive these sinful thoughts away.
Make clean my heart if it be Thy will,
This damned old rascal’s shivering still!”

He stooped, he touched the beggar man’s shoulder;
He asked him did the frost nip colder?
“Frost!” said the beggar, “no, stupid lad!
’Tis the palsy makes me shiver so bad.”

-Robert Graves

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