Close to an hour more of light since December’s solstice stood the calendar on edge, balancing my dwindling days between the here and the hereafter. This late January thaw has turned thoughts to spring again, those Holland-ordered bulbs I bedded late into November already showing green above the gray and crusted soil. You’d think, with seventy winters now beneath my crust, that I’d know better, learn to stay hunkered warm against those drifts that still must slump against the garage door. Yet an old, insistent summoning, wiser than winter’s experts, sends me back to the seed catalogs, makes me check trowel, fork and leaf mold, bends my head to bloom and blossoms yet unseen but lending never-ending fragrance to every lifeless, frigid scene.
These midwinter days that bridge Epiphany to Lent can seem anything but ordinary as the steady waxing light reflects across old December’s glaze of ice, a biting wind hisses across the stark bones of the bracken, and treetops signal sparse against a sky expecting still more snow before nightfall. Scarlet and speckled birds announce themselves about the brightness of the holly, spray from the creek creates bright frosted chandeliers among the tangled overhanging branches, and dusk draws down its spangling of stars so crystalline they lift the eye— heart too—toward a principality that banishes any vestige of routine predictability. Ordinariness exists—if at all— within the desiccated soul, too distracted by its fearful self to notice.
Near chamomile and rosebud potpourri a pair of porcelain camels rest, bit players glazed and unaware of this faux Nativity. Peasant extras lift their silent, pleasing prayers with seasonal adoration. None harbors signs of panic: no goats or stable maids, no wise trio, those dazzled star readers bearing gifts of frankincense and myrrh. Not the puzzled carpenter from Galilee. Not the curious shepherds, nor the virgin exhausted still from her spotless labor.
These figures encircle a barren trough. Where have you gone, O lost Christ child? In truth, the Messiah’s size is the stuff of legend: he’s been abducted. (No Ascension- Come-Early before the ministry begins) Not much bigger than a packing peanut, the babe’s become an object of devotion, begotten for those tenacious paws’ wild swatting or mouth that totes the Savior in haste. We spy the vacancy and know the culprit: fat Larry, golden pear and roly-poly cat,
that ring-tailed and recidivist felon. Regular brigand of the infant Son, he mocks this fragile coffee-table cast. We joke that his is a holy commission, converting birthplace to an empty tomb, Bethlehem yoking the born and risen. Each time He’s someplace new: laundry room or water dish. Under chair, in basement, unknown manger now. And still His grace and tiny lacquered limbs feel ever present, embodying their reliquaried space.
There is no happiness like mine. I have been eating poetry. –Mark Strand
What shall I do with this book I love so much I’d like to eat it? Meeting the poet at a reading, I would cast my eyes down. I’d walk behind him, not stepping on his shadow. If he told me I was half blind, I might lose sight in both my eyes. At home, everything I write becomes infected with his wildness: for instance, this, which I never planned, which has no ending.
Where shall I put the book, so full of life my car could barely stick to the Expressway? When my cold encyclopedias sense its goofy brilliance, they climb and hang on one another like Chinese gymnasts. I must subtract to make a place for the book to live. I lift out histories, then other listless volumes. I toss my boring files, erase the answering machine, renounce the desk, computer, pens.
Only the illumination of St. John stays. In my study’s scooped-out heart I wait beside the book, which glows with light borrowed from some distant star. I look at St. John’s face. He gazes from his throne, his eyes blazing with love and understanding. Tongues of flame play over him, sent from the Source who is both arsonist and fireman, and in his right hand, he holds a book.