Christmas Eve

ski trailThis afternoon
as flakes of powder
buried the Nativity scene
in the front yard
I shovelled
a deep canyon, white
to the road.

Now dusk advances
and firelight dances back and forth
across cherry-panelled walls.
Enormous Norway branches
stretch colored constellations
across the room
above a drift of packages.

Silence is interrupted only by
the occasional shifting of glowing embers.
Looking out, I see that
my boot prints have been lost
in approaching darkness, drift and
accumulation.

Earlier today I went skiing
through the pine woods behind the slough
and through the sloping meadow.
After descending Swanson’s hill,
I paused to look behind me —
above my solitary tracks
which sliced the pale earth,
motionless pines stood alone
against the grey, snow-heralding sky.
My ears grasped for the fading song of the chickadee,
but it was gone,
and the stillness enveloped me.

I felt required to remain in the quiet,
as if the moment would last while I stood still.
But I felt my wool socks soaked with melting snow
so I decided to move,
to return to the house and
to light the fire and
to ssee if the mail had come.

Now night has arrived
and the fire has burnt itself grey.
The meadow is still quiet, I imagine.

I go to bed early; tomorrow will find the house busy.

from the collection Only Say the Word

sleep

2019-12-14-01-19-003God speaks:

I don’t like the man who doesn’t sleep, says God.
Sleep is the friend of man.
Sleep is the friend of God.
Sleep is perhaps the most beautiful thing I have created.
And I myself rested on the seventh day.
He whose heart is pure, sleeps. And he who sleeps has a pure heart.
That is the great secret of being as indefatigable as a child.
Of having that strength in his legs, those new souls,
And to begin afresh every morning, ever new,
Like young hope, new hope.
But they tell me there are men
Who work well and sleep badly.
Who don’t sleep. What a lack of confidence in me.
It is almost more serious than if they worked badly and slept well.
Than if they did not work but slept, because laziness
Is not a greater sin than unrest
And despair and lack of confidence in me.
I am not talking, says God, about those men who don’t work and don’t sleep.
Those men are sinners, to be sure. They have what they deserve.
Great sinners. It’s their fault for not working.
I am talking about those who work and don’t sleep.
I pity them. I am talking about those who work and who, in this,
Obey my commandment, poor children.
And who on the other hand lack courage, lack confidence, and don’t sleep.
I pity them. I have it against them. A little. They won’t trust me.
Like the child who innocently lies in his mother’s arms, thus do they not lie
Innocently in the arms of my Providence.
They have the courage to work. They lack the courage to be idle.
They have enough virtue to work. They haven’t enough virtue to be idle.
To stretch out. To rest. To sleep.
Poor people, they don’t know what is good.
They look after their business very well during the day.
But they haven’t enough confidence in me to let me look after it during the night.
As if I wasn’t capable of looking after it during one night.
He who doesn’t sleep is unfaithful to Hope
And it is the greatest infidelity.
Because it is infidelity to the greatest Faith.
Poor children, they conduct their business with wisdom during the day.
But when evening comes, they can’t make up their minds,
They can’t be resigned to trust my wisdom for the space of one night
With the conduct and the governing of their business.
As if I wasn’t capable, if you please, of looking after it a little.
Of watching over it.
Of governing and conducting, and all that kind of stuff.
I have a great deal more business to look after, poor people, I govern creation, maybe that is more difficult.
You might perhaps, and no harm done, leave your business in my hands, O wise men.
Maybe I am just as wise as you are.
You might perhaps leave it to me for the space of a night.
While you are asleep
At last
And the next morning you might find it not too badly damaged perhaps.
The next morning it might not be any the worse perhaps.
I may yet be capable of attending to it a little. I am talking of those who work
And who in this obey my commandment.
And don’t sleep, and who in this
Refuse all that is good in my creation,
Sleep, all the good I have created,
And also refuse my commandment just the same.
Poor children, what ingratitude towards me
To refuse such a good
Such a beautiful commandment.
Poor children, they follow human wisdom.
Human wisdom says Don’t put off until tomorrow
What can be done the very same day.
But I tell you that he who knows how to put off until tomorrow
Is the most agreeable to God.
He who sleeps like a child
Is also he who sleeps like my darling Hope.
And I tell you Put off until tomorrow
Those worries and those troubles which are gnawing at you today
And might very well devour you today.
Put off until tomorrow those sobs that choke you
When you see today’s unhappiness.
Those sobs which rise up and strangle you.
Put off until tomorrow those tears which fill your eyes and your head,
Flooding you, rolling down your cheeks, those tears which stream down your cheeks.
Because between now and tomorrow, maybe I, God, will have passed by your way.
Human wisdom says: Woe to the man who puts off what he has to do until tomorrow.
And I say Blessed, blessed is the man who puts off what he has to do until tomorrow.
Blessed is he who puts off. That is to say Blessed is he who hopes. And who sleeps.

Sleep by Charles Péguy

November

november_branchesA branch wields its way
toward the grey haze of an icy sky
stripped of its leaves,
with a golden pile of garments
at its base, shrivelling dry.

The branch is empty to be full –
barren, still it reaches,
still it forks its twigs upward
like a waiting hand,
to catch the flurries of December,
wet and heavy in the promise
of a splendor received, not produced.

But first there are the empty days
between foliage and flurries,
the windswept silence of winter afternoons,
the waiting for more than vacancy…
the outstretching toward the promise
of a gift, unknown.

young goodman brown

I wrote this poem as part of my senior thesis in 1992, shortly after reading Young Goodman Brown by Nathaniel Hawthorne.

It was an exploration of Puritanism as it manifests itself in modern life… which was on my brain because of a paper I had written for the course American Literature to 1865. The instructor mentioned in one lecture about the perennial legacy of Puritanism (and, on the other extreme, hedonism) in American life.

See also: a post I wrote back in 2008 on the RCIA Hollywood blog.

***

Striking a match,
he lit up,
then gave a light to Steve and Dan.
Between puffs, Steve turned on the stereo.

The only lamp was in the corner,
but still I could see the smoke,
rising between my face and theirs.
They drew regularly,
even Dan —
especially Dan,
on the couch,
with his toes gripping the edge
of the coffee table.
I emptied my glass of water
and excused myself to get another,
while the music pounded the glories of rebellion,
chaos, libido, anger —

I returned.
Steve, on the floor,
relaxed as ever, leaned back against the wall,
crossed his legs,
and bowed his head slightly to draw.

They talked about the music,
I think.
I couldn’t hear too well —
I wasn’t really listening.
I was watching the faces,
glassy-eyed,
complacent, smiling,
with lips drawn to cigarettes;
faces for the first time grey in my mind
and the smoke has left them grey —

What childishness to see them any other way…
why should they be less grey than I?
An inner voice cries:
Goodman Brown, go home.
Go home, young Goodman Brown.
Purify yourself
of your puritan mind.

Those grey faces
grey mouths
drawing on their cigarettes and smiling —
I know them as my own.
And I love them still
I love them sorely
and perhaps that is
the only way to love them truly.

fidelity of our mother

mater-dolorosaOn the feast of Our Lady of Sorrows (September 15):

A garden dark and darker hearts
bring agony this day;
From Sunday palms to Friday whips
the passions wave astray;
He bears the tree with broken heart
upon the stony way.

With body raised, He hangs in pain
And very few will stay
To watch the life escape Him now
Instead they run away.

But someone stands beneath the Cross
to keep despair at bay
And Christ can smile before He dies:
He hears His mother pray.