Saturday, December 25, 2010

To: You From: Me

I've got a few different things I'd like to share, so forgive the rambling disjointedness of this post. 

First, I literally cannot believe I forgot to use this poem yesterday! All year long I knew THIS would be the one for Christmas Eve. Tempus fugit, man, and it never fugits our way. So fine: here's a belated Christmas Eve poem followed by some for Christmas Day. 

December 24, and George McBride is Dead
Richard Hugo

You a gentleman and I up from the grime--
now wind has shut your dark, dark eyes
and I am left to hate this Christmas eve.
Christ, they're playing carols. Some crap
never stops. You're dead and I'm without
one goddamn Wagner record in the house
to play you up to what for some must be
behind the sky with solid orchestration.

Rest in your defeat, you stupid jerk,
so fat your heart gave out, so sweet
you couldn't help but hear the punks.
"One gulp. The whole quart, Mac." That town
you died in--so unlikely--vineyards,
sunny valleys, stark white missions
and the pale priest summoning
brown sinners from the olive grove.
I'll not know your grave, though I believe
our minds have music that can lead us
through the tangle to the lost stone of a friend.

I get along, write my poems. Essentially
a phony, I try my feelings now
and know I fail. George, it's Christmas eve
and bells are caroling. I'm in the kitchen,
fat and writing, drinking beer and shaking.

Man, where to start? There are images that whip past you at the speed of Willie Wonka's ferry ride, but there's unity in it all, too. There's tough-guy bravado and painful sentiment, sometimes in the same line. I'm not sure if the poem is for George McBride, an old-time major-league baseball player with the lowest batting average on record (.218). It hardly matters - like Bukowski's "For Jane," this thing devastates anything in its path.

And now for something completely different: 

The Mystic's Christmas  
John Greenleaf Whittier

"All hail!" the bells of Christmas rang,
"All hail!" the monks at Christmas sang,
The merry monks who kept with cheer
The gladdest day of all their year.

But still apart, unmoved thereat,
A pious elder brother sat
Silent, in his accustomed place,
With God's sweet peace upon his face.

"Why sitt'st thou thus?" his brethren cried,
"It is the blessed Christmas-tide;
The Christmas lights are all aglow,
The sacred lilies bud and blow.

"Above our heads the joy-bells ring,
Without the happy children sing,
And all God's creatures hail the morn
On which the holy Christ was born.

"Rejoice with us; no more rebuke
Our gladness with thy quiet look."
The gray monk answered, "Keep, I pray,
Even as ye list, the Lord's birthday.

"Let heathen Yule fires flicker red
Where thronged refectory feasts are spread;
With mystery-play and masque and mime
And wait-songs speed the holy time!

"The blindest faith may haply save;
The Lord accepts the things we have;
And reverence, howsoe'er it strays,
May find at last the shining ways.

"They needs must grope who cannot see,
The blade before the ear must be;
As ye are feeling I have felt,
And where ye dwell I too have dwelt.

"But now, beyond the things of sense,
Beyond occasions and events,
I know, through God's exceeding grace,
Release from form and time and space.

"I listen, from no mortal tongue,
To hear the song the angels sung;
And wait within myself to know
The Christmas lilies bud and blow.

"The outward symbols disappear
From him whose inward sight is clear;
And small must be the choice of days
To him who fills them all with praise!

"Keep while you need it, brothers mine,
With honest seal your Christmas sign,
But judge not him who every morn
Feels in his heart the Lord Christ born!"

I'm not usually a fan of Whittier - he can be too pat and sing-songy, like many in that first crop of true American poets. I like this one anyway, with its little moral at the end.

But I think this poem expresses my deepest Christmas wish: 

Christ Climbed Down
Lawrence Ferlinghetti

Christ climbed down
from His bare Tree
this year
and ran away to where
there were no rootless Christmas trees
hung with candycanes and breakable stars
Christ climbed down
from His bare Tree
this year
and ran away to where
there were no gilded Christmas trees
and no tinsel Christmas trees
and no tinfoil Christmas trees
and no pink plastic Christmas trees
and no gold Christmas trees
and no black Christmas trees
and no powderblue Christmas trees
hung with electric candles
and encircled by tin electric trains
and clever cornball relatives
Christ climbed down
from His bare Tree
this year
and ran away to where
no intrepid Bible salesmen
covered the territory
in two-tone cadillacs
and where no Sears Roebuck creches
complete with plastic babe in manger
arrived by parcel post
the babe by special delivery
and where no televised Wise Men
praised the Lord Calvert Whiskey

Christ climbed down
from His bare Tree
this year
and ran away to where
no fat handshaking stranger
in a red flannel suit
and a fake white beard
went around passing himself off
as some sort of North Pole saint
crossing the desert to Bethlehem
in a Volkswagon sled
drawn by rollicking Adirondack reindeer
with German names
and bearing sacks of Humble Gifts
from Saks Fifth Avenue
for everybody's imagined Christ child
Christ climbed down
from His bare Tree
this year
and ran away to where
no Bing Crosby carollers
groaned of a tight Christmas
and where no Radio City angels
iceskated wingless
thru a winter wonderland
into a jinglebell heaven
daily at 8:30
with Midnight Mass matinees
Christ climbed down
from His bare Tree
this year
and softly stole away into
some anonymous Mary's womb again
where in the darkest night
of everybody's anonymous soul
He awaits again
an unimaginable and impossibly
Immaculate Reconception
the very craziest
of Second Comings

I'm hoping not just for an end to the panicky pageantry and ludicrous waste, the greed and lethargy and vanity and gluttony, the elevation of a cute baby God above a real God. I'm hoping for that "very craziest of Second Comings."

Dave Bazan writes:

I place in the manger
Baby Jesus figurine
Sipping Christmas whiskey
Wondering if I still believe.

It's an excellent question I'm still in the process of answering, in the darkest night of my anonymous soul. Nativity gives me a place where he can await again and maybe tip the scales.

So Merry Christmas, this crazy mixed-up holiday that's middle ground between Christians and nature-worshippers, between greed and generosity, joy and sadness, family companionship and deep winter solitude. Let there be peace on earth and goodwill towards men.

And if we can't have that, I'll settle for Wil Wheaton's renowned motto:

No comments:

Post a Comment