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Posts Tagged ‘Christmas’

poem is on Christmas tree

 

A Drink of Water

by Seamus Heaney

 

She came every morning to draw water

Like an old bat staggering up the field:

The pump’s whooping cough, the bucket’s clatter

And slow diminuendo as it filled,

Announced her. I recall

Her grey apron, the pocked white enamel

Of the brimming bucket, and the treble

Creak of her voice like the pump’s handle.

Nights when a full moon lifted past her gable

It fell back through her window and would lie

Into the water set out on the table.

Where I have dipped to drink again, to be

Faithful to the admonishment on her cup,

Remember the Giver fading off the lip.

 

 

I’m in a hurry this Christmas Eve—egg casseroles to make, flowers to arrange, napkins to be ironed—so forgive this hasty post.

 

Remember the Giver. I’m taking this line from Heaney’s beautiful poem out of context, but bear with me. I’m sending out that line to all those receiving gifts over the holidays.

 

This time of year we focus on giving, and unless we’re little kids, teenagers, or needy adults, we enjoy giving more than receiving. Especially because gifts can be a let-down, not matching our expectations. We don’t hear a lot on how to receive a gift. I myself have been an ungracious receiver at times. But I’ve come to view receiving as an art form, and when done properly, as a spiritual duty, a moment of grace that allows the giver to experience his or her own goodness.

 

“A Drink of Water” must have been an important poem to Heaney, because it was one of two poems he chose to represent his lifetime achievement at an awards dinner. This from a Guardian article about his selection:

Heaney said it was “about receiving a gift and being enjoined to ‘remember the giver'”, something he said he would always do when remembering that evening.

“The old lady in the poem was a neighbour, a crone, as she might have been described, who lived on her own, down the fields from us,” he said. “To us kids she had a certain witch-like aura, but in the poem she becomes more like a muse offering the cup of poetry to the child incertus.”

 

Merry Christmas to those celebrating! Happy Hanukkah a little late, and Happy Holidays to all!

 

Remember the Giver.

 

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My old friend Trish (frequent commentator, a great reader of poems, an even better writer and artist) sent her annual Christmas fantasy card. I pass it along with her permission:

 

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And in case you’ve got loads of spare time for reading, I’ll also share a link for a piece from the New York Times Sunday Book Review, “What’s Your Favorite Poem?”  Writers, actors, and producers were asked to share a favorite. The responses have given me some homework to do–I haven’t read many of these poems, haven’t even heard of half of them.

 

If you have a favorite poem (note to Mo Williams, whoever that is–Dr. Seuss does not count), please post a comment here.

 

I’ll be back in the New Year!

 

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Screen Shot 2015-12-19 at 10.13.07 AMAfter my last post, a depressing take on the holiday season, I feel like Bad Santa or Bad Party Guest, someone who hurries out the door after leaving the toilet clogged. Before December 25 rolls around, I want to clear the air, so to speak, with something more festive.

(Also because I got a concerned email from an old friend, bless her, hoping that my life is turning out okay.)

 

So here’s a picture of a card I got from another friend, the card being every bit as nice as the gift it accompanied. My friend was inspired by the online celebrations of Jane Austen’s birthday to copy down a few choice Austen quotes.

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Merry Christmas and/or Happy New Year to all! Enjoy friends and dancing and Jane Austen if you have time.

 

I’ll leave you with these lines from a Czeslaw Misosz poem (complete poem printed below):

It is true. We have a beautiful time

As long as time is time at all.

My mom, enjoying time

My mom, enjoying time

 

The Mistake

by Czeslaw Milosz

I thought: all this is only preparation
For learning, at last, how to die.
Mornings and dusks, in the grass under a maple
Laura sleeping without pants, on a headrest of raspberries,
While Filon, happy, washes himself in the stream.
Mornings and years. Every glass of wine,
Laura, and the sea, land, and archipelago
Bring us nearer, I believed, to one aim
And should be used with a thought to that aim.

But a paraplegic in my street
Whom they move together with his chair
From shade into sunlight, sunlight into shade,
Looks at a cat, a leaf, the chrome steel on an auto,
And mumbles to himself, “Beau temps, beau temps.”

It is true. We have a beautiful time
As long as time is time at all.

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Poems are in front of Jack Daniels bottle and further down in front of some cinnamon drink

Poems are in front of Jack Daniels bottle and further down the same shelf in front of some cinnamon drink

 

Alcohol

by Franz Wright

 

You do look a little ill.

 

But we can do something about that, now.

 

Can’t we.

 

The fact is you’re a shocking wreck.

 

Do you hear me.

 

You aren’t all alone.

 

And you could use some help today, packing in the

dark, boarding buses north, putting the seat back and

grinning with terror flowing over your legs through

your fingers and hair . . .

 

I was always waiting, always here.

 

Know anyone else who can say that.

 

My advice to you is think of her for what she is:

one more name cut in the scar of your tongue.

 

What was it you said, “To rather be harmed than

harm, is not abject.”

 

Please.

 

Can we be leaving now.

 

We like bus trips, remember. Together

 

we could watch these winter fields slip past, and

never care again,

 

think of it.

 

I don’t have to be anywhere.

 

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The Drunk

by Franz Wright

 

I don’t understand any more

than you do. I only know

he stays here

like some huge wounded animal—

open the door and he will gaze at you and

linger

Close the door

And he will break it down

Image

 

Debbie Downer resurfaces, just in time for the holidays.

 

But really, for anyone living with an alcoholic, Christmas and New Year’s can be a horrible time of year. Time off from work means more time at home, more time for drinking and causing havoc and pain. Not to mention the self-loathing an alcoholic feels when he knows, at some level and to varying degrees, that he’s an asshole.

 

In these two poems, poet Franz Wright addresses both sides of alcohol abuse. He knows them intimately, having grown up with an alcoholic parent and then becoming one himself.

 

Mostly our sympathies lie with the child of an alcoholic, so quickly and keenly sketched in “The Drunk.” The options for living with The Drunk are bad and worse, because however a family member of an alcoholic reacts—ignoring or engaging, or in the language of the poem, opening or closing the door -–they’ll pay for it.

 

The central image

 

he stays here

like some huge wounded animal–

 

reminds me of a Swedish public service advertisement, one of the best ads I’ve ever seen. In the ad (link here), adults who get drunk are literally monsters, frightening, incomprehensible, and embarrassing to their children. The expression on the little boy’s face as he gets buckled in his seatbelt breaks my heart.

 

The flip side of this sad picture is the soul-crushing pain of the alcoholic, pain that is both the cause and the effect of drinking. It’s always hard to sympathize with a person who acts like a jerk and an idiot, but in “Alcohol,” Wright lays out the torture of living with addiction. The narrating voice describes to the drinker the pain ahead–

 

putting the seat back and  

grinning with terror flowing over your legs through  

your fingers and hair . . .

 

and offers to make it better. Because drinking is also fun. Wright’s drinker is offered a road trip with his best buddy, his most reliable friend. Traveling drunk is easier than facing up to the pain of a broken relationship. Any reservations the drinker feels about his actions–

 

What was it you said, “To rather be harmed than  

harm, is not abject.”

 

are shut down with ridicule–

 

Please.

 

By turns the drinker is insulted and consoled by this seductive interior voice. There’s no doubt who’s winning this one.

 

I left both poems in the liquor aisle of my local drugstore. Spreading merriment and cheer, that’s me.

 

Screen Shot 2015-12-17 at 1.48.03 PMFranz Wright’s face is his biography. This is what a hard life looks like. But it’s a heroic face too, considering the suffering he lived with: beatings by his father, worse beatings by his stepfather, parental abandonment, manic-depression, alcoholism, and drug abuse. Like writer Mary Karr, his onetime colleague and friend, he overcame addiction and converted to Catholicism, finding some measure of stability in the last sixteen years of his life.

 

Franz Wright (1953-2015) was born in Austria where his father, the famous poet James Wright, was studying on a Fulbright scholarship. The older Wright left the family when Franz was eight, and only stayed in sporadic contact with the family. When Franz was fifteen he sent his father a poem, and his father wrote back, “Well I’ll be damned. You’re a poet. Welcome to hell.”

 

The younger Wright graduated from Oberlin College in 1977. In 1984 he was winning awards and teaching at Emerson College when he was fired for “drinking related activities.” He sunk into a years-long depression, wasn’t able to write, and attempted suicide.

 

In 1999 he married a former student, Elizabeth Oehklers. He converted to Catholicism, got sober and was able to write again.

 

He died earlier this year of lung cancer at age 62.

 

 

 

 

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It was a season of near disasters.   Two weeks before Christmas I lost my aunt’s pearls, a graduated strand of Mikimoto beauties which her husband had brought back from Japan after WWII.  Just as I was getting ready to confess, that same aunt had a fall and landed in the hospital.  She recovered, the pearls were found, and thus did the overcooked tenderloin on Christmas Eve and the overnighted presents which didn’t arrive by Christmas take their proper place in the ranks of what is not important.  (My advice to Hamlet:  readiness is not all.  Perspective is.)

Aunt Joann, not wearing her recovered pearls

Aunt Joann, not wearing her recovered pearls

 

It was also a season of unexpected gifts.  Here’s one, from my daughter Lizzie:

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Out of the overturned nest fall four eggs, and out of the eggs fly nine origami birds.  I didn’t get the symbolism at first, but with a little help I understood. An empty nest.  Re-birth.  Possibility.  Next fall, when the last of my four leaves for college, I’ll have my mobile to remind me to look at the situation with hopefulness.

 

The second unexpected gift was from my youngest little bird. On Christmas Eve after everyone had gone to bed, she stayed up for hours cleaning out my laundry room/office.  It was a big job.  Piles of laundry, stacks of books, framed prints, unframed prints, office supplies, loose papers, notebooks, textbooks, photo albums, boxes of pictures, and probably plain old trash had covered the floor, desk and bookcases.  When she presented the tidied room on Christmas day, I nearly fell over with joy on the empty floor.

my cleaning gal

my cleaning gal

 

The third gift I’ll mention is related to that room, before it was cleaned.  Truly I had despaired of ever organizing the mess there.  My husband, who usually delights in throwing out things I hoard, had refused to help me because I had un-done his past work.  So a week before Christmas I was ironing (unusual in itself) and looked at a pile of books stacked on a chair (not unusual at all) and decided that while I was waiting for the iron to heat up, I could at least put away a few books (highly unusual).  I picked up a book of Edna St. Vincent Millay poems belonging to my father that my mother had recently sent.

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While I was thumbing through the book, I found a letter.  It was from my sister-in-law’s father, now deceased, to my father, also deceased.  Des was writing to thank Don for loaning a book, and ended with this:

“I think one could meditate forever on Francis Thompson’s lines in his final stanza:

‘Is my gloom, after all, shade of His hand, outstretched caressingly?’

 

I re-read the letter a few times.  I forgot about the iron, forgot about shelving the book.  I was overwhelmed by the humanity of it, there in my hand, this intimate record of two old men trying to understand themselves, their lives, their emotions. Des’ handwriting as elegant as his expressions.

 

Here’s the gift part of the story:  I emailed my sister-in-law to ask if she wanted the letter.  She wrote back immediately.  Turns out she had just been thinking of it.  Long ago, shortly after her father died, my father had read her the letter.  She didn’t ask for the letter, although she wanted it, and had wondered over the years what had happened to it.  By chance, it re-appeared in her life, just a day after the anniversary of her father’s death.

 

Make of that what you will.

 

I also found this in the book:

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look closely for the golden crumb

A crumb of food.  It’s a little disgusting, but also touches me somehow, this image of my father reading a poem-play and, maybe bored or maybe just sloppy, eating a cookie and dropping his crumbs in the pages.  Hardened now and preserved in a closed book, evidence of his constant reading, his yearning for things beautiful, his love of sweets.

 

Happy New Year!  Thanks to all you wonderful readers!

 

 

 

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If I measured my value in the number of Christmas cards I’ve received this year, I’d be having a Charlie Brown “I got rocks” kind of feeling right now.

But the depressing emptiness of my Christmas card holder lost its sting when I opened my email yesterday.  My friend Trish Rawlings, artist, writer, and frequent commentator on this blog, sent me a digital copy of her annual handmade Christmas card.  Her work is usually dreamy and strange and always delightful.

With her permission, I’m reprinting her card here, and a few of her past cards as well.

 

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My favorite:

Image 2

 

A two-parter:

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Image 1

 

 

Being lost inspires her most unsettling pieces:

 

Image 5

 

Image 4

 

 

Finally, one featuring her cat:

Image 3

 

Pantaloon, my feelings exactly.

 

Anyone interested in Trish’s work can reach her through the comment section. From there, she’ll give you her contact information directly.

Thank you, Trish!

 

 

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After stuffing Christmas decorations in rubber bins and garbage bags, after consuming the last Christmas cookie crumb, after shelving the Christmas cards I know I won’t be sending, after putting away the thoughtful gifts I received,  I am left with one gift that will never be used.  Not for the usual reasons of fit or taste or intentional uselessness.  The postcards my daughter for me are too dear to deposit in any mailbox.  She paired lines from Shakespeare with pictures she took of our dog Jane.

Here is Jane in a witch’s cape:

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The lines are Falstaff’s from Henry IV:  “You starveling, you elfskin, you dried neat’s tongue, you bull’s pizzle, you stockfish! O, for breath to utter what is like thee! “

 

Here we have Jane in a Halloween mask:

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Jane looks very like one of the Weird Sisters Macbeth addresses:

you should be women, 
And yet your beards forbid me to interpret 
That you are so.

 

Next a Frenchified Jane in a trench coat, beret and silk scarf. She’s brought a box of Panko to coat the birds in front of her.

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The lines are from Measure for Measure.  Isabella pleads for her brother’s life:

Go to your bosom

Knock there, and ask your heart what it doth know.

 

And finally, Jane sick in bed:

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Paired with an excerpt from Sonnet 147:

My love is as a fever, longing still

For that which longer nurseth the disease.

 

Happy New Year, everyone.

 

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