Tuesday, December 26, 2017

Travelogue -- In Sardinia





























People were lining the streets of a town in the interior of Sardinia.

"Quid es la festa?" I asked a woman in her twenties seated on the curb in my best Hispano-Latinate pidgin.

She blinked up at me. "La festa √® l'assunzione di Maria."

So we ordered drinks at a sidewalk cafe and waited with everyone else. Soon, there was singing and women in dresses and men in old-style suits processed by carrying crosses. Then tractors and oxen festooned with garlands. I watched a little girl of four or five amble around in her traditional costume dress and hop up in the scoop of a slow-moving earth mover turned float.

Afterward, driving back to Cagliari, the road narrowed into open country. On an anonymous dirt crossroad, we saw a group of people in costume dress. They were waiting to process, maybe to the tiny village's steeple I could see a mile distant through the hills and dry chapparal. I pulled over and hopped out and snapped two pictures with my old iPhone 5S. Then we drove on.

Snow

SNOW

Say mountains. Say winter. Say the other houses
recede into weather and the sharp edges of the forest

blur. Say thin atmosphere. Say altitude
which is the same thing as saying nearer to heaven,

a mile closer to the moon. Say whitening. Say silvering.
Say the sunset is cliché. Say the future falls slowly,

an endless layering, driven, plowed, blown into banks.
Say gut feeling. Say benison. Say we could go out searching

amid the pines and suburban houses for hours on end
and come home to find life waiting for us

on the living room couch. Say we are God’s sterling clasp,
senses crafted to hold the jeweled snow.

Denver means a breath away from breathlessness.
Say that love is not only possible but inevitable,

that it alights around us, freely given, equally shed.
Say the forecast shows things clearing 

by the week’s end. I might just believe you.


(originally appeared in Ambit)

Monday, December 25, 2017

After Machado

Last night, I slept and dreamed
that my heart was a beehive ––
inside golden bees worked busily,
sipping at the astringent nectar
of past bitterness, transforming it
into pale wax and sweet honey.

Christmas

Merry Christmas, Dear Reader.

May peace be upon you and the joy of Christ's nativity. Whether close or distant, in touch or silent,  I wish you -- yes you -- love and joy that will see you through into the new year and hope to see you in it. A poem from A.E. Housman for the day.

Matthew

Christmas Carol

Bells at sunrise making babel:
Christ is born, I hear men say.
Shepherds, bring me to the stable,
That I may give my Lord good-day.
For you heard fall the angels' warning,
Keeping of the starlit fold,
All in the dark midwinter morning
Amongst the pearly rime so cold.

Lully, lully, lully, humming:
Shepherds, say, is this the door?
Oh, Kings out of the east are coming,
But I have brought my gifts before.
Over the frail star-travelled stranger
With tears and smiles his mother bows,
And all about the misty manager
Steams the sweet breath of the cows.

Monday, December 11, 2017

Peace on Earth

It's snowing in Detroit. Traffic crawled along 10 past accidents and spin-offs. There'll probably be a snow day tomorrow. I'm planning for a carol sing party Sunday and picking hymns I've been reflecting on the idea of peace on earth, something that seems so far and unimaginable with bad events on the news and tragedy in lives I hold dear. It's usually easy to feel it in the cheer of the season with time spent slowly with loved ones -- tree cutting, long sing-alongs, and sipping hilariously large novelty bottles of Trader Joe champagne. But it harder to see this year as scandal and brutality riffle through our country, as political policy further disenfranchises the most vulnerable parts of society, as my extended family reels from a sudden death. How can a season, a day, even one where we commemorate a savior, bring peace?

My friend C suggested we sing I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day at the party. It's a lovely song by a favorite childhood poet. In it, the narrator hears the tolling of Christmas bells calling "peace on earth, goodwill to men." At first they sound sweet but as they roll on something inside him blanches at their message. "Wrong is strong and mocks the song of 'peace on earth, goodwill to men,'" he says to himself. But the bells continue and call him back to rememrance of the day, that Christ has come to set right the gross and incalculable pain and discord and fragmentation of individuals, relationships, societies.

"The wrong shall fail, the right prevail." Easy to say, right?

I don't think it was for Longfellow. I studied him in college and wrote a biographical sketch. I remember reading about his wife and young daughter sealing letters in the family library and a drop of flaming wax falling onto a crinoline skirt. Longfellow tried to save them but couldn't and was so badly burned in the face that he couldn't shave. His beard became his signature look but it hid a deep and terrible pain. He fought crippling depression for years. Later, his only son was terribly wounded fighting for abolition in the American Civil War.

And yet, he writes, "God is not dead nor does he sleep. The wrong shall fail, the right prevail."

That is the truth I'm turning my heart to this advent, opening it -- however heavy it can feel on some days -- to make room for a tiny child come to set in motion the healing of the world. Through this present time and even its turmoil, God is working. Love will have the last word. It's not some future promise of bliss and it-will-all-be-okay but a call to walk forward in love and faith and prayer that I may be a peacemaker in whatever way I can to whomever I encounter today.

May peace prevail on earth and our hearts -- yours and mine -- this Advent.

Saturday, December 9, 2017

Unincorporated Lines

The first real snow last night. Everywhere I went today -- the Greek food store, Stella Coffee in The Fisher Building, the library -- people were cheery. I felt cheery too, something about the detritus of the year covered over, the hard lines of brick softening with a collar of white, the bracing air.

I've been writing a lot lately. For me, the practice for both life and writing -- because we bring the same mindsets to bear on creation and living -- is to walk forward with a joyful expectancy of the unknown, to see what happens. A few things from my notebook...

      *

Shots fired outside the Institute of Arts -- 
panic's animal understanding touched one 
and then another and the crowd broke,
streaming along Farnsworth Avenue.
A crackling in the night, shouts, sirens,
and the whump, whump, whump
of a distant police helicopter.

     *

We love only the specific form
but long toward the place all beauty points -- 
the lines on your face...

     *

I made a space for you in my arms, 
small because you were small. 
I have carried your absence ever since.

     *

The life you took off like a jacket
forgotten on a chair-back 
of some sidewalk cafe -- the loss 
you didn't realize until one day 
you went looking for it.


Tuesday, December 5, 2017

Untitled by Yves Bonnefoy (trans. Emily Grosholz)

Snowflakes,
Inconsequential mistakes of light.
One follows on another, on others still, as if
Understanding no longer counted, only laughter.

And Aristotle said it well,
Somewhere in his Poetics that we read so poorly,
Transparency is what matters,
In sentences that should be like the rumor of bees
Or like clear water.

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