Phenomenology, a cruel creed, Preaches its faith in omnipresent ways: “One world alone” is all the creed we need, Empiricism controls all our ways. And so we build our barns and get and store, Laughing at those who sing noumenal songs, Ignoring those who say, “No, there is more,” Scorning an ethic built on “Right” and “Wrong.” In stark contrast, the Galilean Jew, Who used his stories to affirm his creed, Out-Kanting Kant on what we ought to do, Sounded a warning every person needs: “Do not forget, you fool, all bills come due, This night your soul will be required of you.”*
If Vietnam, with its baffling, Venus-flytrap landscape, is the perfect dramatic background for an existential drama, the Gulf War would appear to be an ideal setting for an existential comedy: so many servicemen all suited up but with nowhere to go and nothing to do. That’s how David O. Russell’s great 1999 film Three Kings began.
When I was young, Christmas wasn’t very much— a balsam culled from the edge of a field, colored balls in a tattered box, durable strings of colored lights, glorious music in local churches, long, slow winter hours.
Now that I am four fifths old, Christmas is so very much, so bought and sold in Christian bulk, carols slammed down secular streets— bad or worse in slipshod churches. What sea or landfill’s deep enough to hold the glitter-smash of all these broken ornaments?
. . . Who are you again?
I was a wise man, literate in stars.
Ancient and uneasy in America, wrapped in swaddling robes, wheel-chaired, parked beneath denatured swags of falsely berried nevergreen, I miss austerity. I miss desert travel.
I miss the naive Christmases when, four fifths young in my frugal father’s house, I wrote my hopes on a battered desk in a shadowy hall upstairs— the ceiling high and cold with draft on dragging winter evenings when there was no entertainment but my mind unentertained, yet knowledge of approaching holiday. Once I dreamed that I worked all night, forgetting— then woke in the downstairs room as warm as womb: the tree of light.
But most of all, I miss how every modest Christmas morning, disappointment in the presents faded quietly and wisely, gone by breakfast even for us children.
. . . but—who are you again?
Melchior, come back in another searching time.
Searching for what?
The light from the star that just now is arriving.
The astrologer? One of the three? Why here?
Too much room at the Christian Inn. And who would look for a Magus here among this wreckage of untreasured age and unmined memory? Herod is alive and well and killing babes for no reason at all. This is the manger of 2005 and the hay is eating the oxen.
I do not understand you.
What is it in this saturated, satiated anti-Midas age of yours that everything you touch, once gold, turns lead! Even the holy babe we found is new-born, yes! again this year, but four fifths dead.
Wait! Don’t wheel away—! Listen— Listen. I’ll tell you what I still can see on late-in-Advent evenings in my clearest memory: the true Nativity– my faithful father’s glowing tree reflected in the tall black window panes of living room, the colored lights imposed on bare and frozen trees outside, and that was it—the lead-to-golden bough, like Gabriel’s who imposed on Mary’s how.
Like Christmas then on Christmas now.
Believe I do reject the artificial tree and heart of modern Christmas “season”—
Are there any more like you?
Two or three in beds and halls and cattle stalls on every floor.
Will you take back one Christmas night, one Christmas morning, only, for your use? Will you refuse cartoonish “power” pointed songs of praise (follow the bouncing ball) projected in what used to be a sacred space, and wait for writing by the hand on temple wall Can we agree?
Will you come with me? Though I seem to nod in this cushioned chair in the cushioned space of used-to-mean, let word go forth in Herod’s time again: we are at odds with the even powers and will report to no one what we’ve seen.
We’ll secret the strains of ancient songs of love bereft and hope long gone, safe in heart, secure in mind, singing the news between mourn and morn: —for two or three of us old kings he is still born.
Gun metal gray the sky this morning and along the shore at dead low tide an on-shore wind blows spume across the wave tops. Rain before dark, they say, and even some late snow to dash our dawning dreams of green and blossoming. Undaunted, a new pair of mallards— splendid headed male and female—inaugurate the new-thawed pool beside the dog run of our ocean-front retirement home. Silent, they move across, now venturing among the reeds to break their long migrating fast, and seek a secure nesting place to lay the future. Blessing their ancient quest, I call to mind one week ago, on this same daybreak dog walk, I was surprised, almost alarmed, by one great, stately snow white egret, with his mate, also foraging among the weeds, as the larger of them rose, spread his quite angelic wings, and wafted a bright unexpected blessing to my aging head, as he moved on in search of richer waters.
When Toni Morrison taught creative writing at Princeton University, all her students had been told in previous classes to write about what they knew. She said to forget that advice because first, they didn’t know anything yet, and two, she didn’t want to read about their experiences. She told them to imagine people outside their own experience, such as a Mexican waitress in Rio Grande who could barely speak English. It was amazing what these students came up with, Morrison said, when they were given license to imagine something outside their realm of experience (American Theatre, March 10).