Thursday, November 30, 2006

 

Some December Poems

"December Wind"

The December wind kills hope,
but don't let it take
the blue mist from the ocean
and the summer morning's mildness.

Who believes that invisible,
light islands still exist
and stains of sunshine
on a parquet floor.

Sleep wanders in rags
begging for alms
while memory, like Mary Stuart,
withers in a prison cell.

--Adam Zagajewski
(translated by Clare Cavanagh)

***

"In the Grip of the Solstice"

Feels like a train roaring into night,
the journey into fierce cold just beginning.
The ground is newly frozen, the crust
brittle and fancy with striations,
steeples and nipples we break
under our feet.

Every day we are shortchanged a bit more,
night pressing down on the afternoon
throttling it. Wan sunrise later
and later, every day trimmed
like an old candle you beg to give
an hour's more light.

Feels llike hurtling into vast darkness,
the sky itself whistling of space
the black matter between stars
the red shift as the light dies,
warmth a temporary aberration,
entropy as a season.

Our ancestors understood the brute
fear that grips us as the cold
settles around us, closing in.
Light the logs in the fireplace tonight,
light the candles, first one, then two,
the full chanukiya.

Light the finre in the belly.
Eat hot soup, cabbage and beef
borscht, chicken soup, lamb
and barley, stoke the marrow.
Put down the white wine and pour
whiskey instead.

We reach for each other in our bed,
the night vaulted above us
like a cave. Night in the afternoon,
cold frosting the glass so it hurts
to touch it, only flesh still
welcoming to flesh.

--Marge Piercy

***

"December in Los Angeles"

The tulip bulbs rest darkly in the fridge
To get the winter they can't get outside;
The drought and warm winds alter and abridge
The season till it almost seems denied.

A bright road-running scrub jay plies his bill,
While searching through the garden like a sleuth
For peanuts that he's buried in the soil:
How different from the winters of my youth.

Back in Vermont, we'd dress on furnace vents.
A breakfast of hot cereal -- and then
We'd forge out to a climate so intense
It would have daunted Scott and Amundsen.

I'd race down icy Howard Street to catch
The school bus and pursue it, as it roared
Up Union, my arms waving, pleading, much
To the amusement of my friends on board.

But here I look out on a garden, whose
Poor flowers are knocked over on their side.
Well, stakes and ties will cure them of the blues
(If not the winds) and see them rectified.

And in the shower is a pail we use
To catch and save the water while it warms:
I fetch and pour it on the irises
And hope this winter will bring drenching storms.

--Timothy Steele

***

"December Blues"

At the bad time, nothing betrays outwardly the harsh findings,
The studies and hospital records. Carols play.

Sitting upright in the transit system, the widowlike women
Wait, hands folded in their laps, as monumental as bread.

In the shopping center lots, lights mounted on cold standards
Tower and stir, condensing the blue vapour

Of the stars; between the rows of cars people in coats walk
Bundling packages in their arms or holding the hands of children.

Across the highway, where a town thickens by the tracks
With stores open late and creches in front of the churches,

Even in the bars a businesslike set of the face keeps off
The nostalgic pitfall of the carols, tugging. In bed,

How low and still the people lie, some awake, holding the carols
Consciously at bay, Oh Little Town, enveloped in unease.

--Robert Pinsky

***

"White Christmas"

For once it is a white Christmas,
so white the roads are impassable
and my wife is snowbound
in a town untroubled by tractor or snowplough.
In bed, awake, alone. She calls

and we pass on our presents by telephone.
Mine is a watch, the very one
I would have chosen. Hers is a song,
the one with the line Here come the hills of time
and it sits in its sleeve,

unsung and unopened. But the dog downstairs
is worrying, gnawing, howling,
so I walk her through clean snow
along the tow-path to the boat-house at a steady pace,
then to my parents' place

where my mother is Marie Curie, in the kitchen
discovering radium, and my father is Fred Flintstone,
and a guest from the past has a look on her face meaning
lie and I'll have your teeth for a necklace, boy,
your eyeballs for earrings,

your bullshit for breakfast,
and my two-year-old niece is baby Jesus,
passing between us with the fruit of the earth
and the light of the world -- Christingle -- a blood orange
spiked with a burning candle.

We eat, but the dog begs at the table,
drinks from the toilet, sings in the cellar.
Only baby Jesus wanders with me down the stairs
with a shank of meat to see her, to feed her.
Later, when I stand to leave

my father wants to shake me by the hand
but my arms are heavy, made of a base metal,
and the dog wants to take me down the black lane, back
to an empty house again. A car goes by
with my sister inside

and to wave goodnight
she lifts the arm of the sleeping infant Christ,
but I turn my wrist to notice the time. There and then
I'm the man in the joke, the man in a world of friends
where all the clocks are stopped,

synchronising his own watch.

--Simon Armitage

***

"December Moon"

Before going to bed
After a fall of snow
I look out on the field
Shining there in the moonlight
So calm, untouched and white
Snow silence fills my head
After I leave the window.

Hours later near dawn
When I look down again
The whole landscape has changed
The perfect surface gone
Criss-crossed and written on
where the wild creatures ranged
while the moon rose and shone.

why did my dog not bark?
Why did I hear no sound
There on the snow-locked ground
In the tumultuous dark?

How much can come, how much can go
When the December moon is bright,
What worlds of play we'll never know
Sleeping away the cold white night
After a fallof snow.

--May Sarton

***

"Letter"

It is December in the garden,
an early winter here, with snow
already hiding my worst offenses --
the places I disturbed your moss
with my heavy boots; the corner
where I planted in too deep a hole
the now stricken hawthorne: crystals
hanging from its icy branches
are the only flowers it will know.

When did solitude become
mere loneliness and the sounds
of birds at the feeder seem
not like a calibrated music
but the discordant dialects
of strangers simply flying through?
I have tried to construct a life
alone here -- coffee at dawn; a jog
through the chilling air

counting my heartbeats,
as if the doctor were my only muse;
books and bread and firewood --
those usual stepping-stones from month
to freezing month. but the constricted light,
the year closing down on itself with all
the vacancies of January ahead, leave me
unreconciled even to beauty.
When will you be coming back?

--Linda Pastan

***

["On the plazas of the city at Christmas"]

On the plazas of the city at Christmas
I screamed, yelled, that the police
had turned red and the carp's eyes
stopped to stare.

Silent night, holy
night, when the bough flies from the tree
and is hung everywhere, when
from tables the crusts fly,
when the gifts begin to tremble
because lovelessness walks through the world,
because it snarls at you, barks at you from the snow,
and the silver ribbons rip and the tinsel rustles silvery,
and the silver and gold, and a golden word
come to you on which you choke
because you have been sold and betrayed,
and because it does not suffice that for you
one is redeemed who once died.

--Ingeborg Bachmann
(translated by Peter Filkins)

***

"December River"

After riding the brown harvest of rains, express lights
Are riding behind bare poles.

As the flood clears to cider and shrinks a little,
Leaves spinning and toiling in the underboil,
I go to find salmon.

A frost-fragility hangs.
Duck-eggshell emptiness, bare to the space-freeze.
Jupiter crucified and painful. Vapour-trails keen as incisions.

Blackly
Crusty tricorne sycamore leaves are tick-tocking down
To hit the water with a hard tiny crash.

From under the slag-smoke west
The molten river comes, bulging,
With its skin of lights.

Too late now to see much
I wade into the unfolding metals.

This vein from the sky is the sea-spirit's pathway.
Here all year salmon have been their own secret.
They were the heavy slipperiness in the green oils.

The steady name -- unfathomable --
In the underbrow stare-darkness.

They leapfrogged the river's fifty-mile ladder
With love-madness for strength,
Weightlifting through all its chimneys of tonnage

And came to ther never-never land -- to these
Gutters the breadth of a tin bath.
And dissolved

Into holes of obviousness. anchored in strongholds
Of a total absence. Became
The transparency of their own windows.

So, day in day out, this whole summer
I offered all I had for a touch of their wealth --
I found only endlessly empty water.

But I go now, in near-darkness,
Frost, and close to Christmas, and am admitted
To glance down and see, right at my heel,
A foot under, where blackwater mills rubbish,
Like a bleached hag laid out -- the hooked gape
And gargoyle lobster-claw grab

Of a dead salmon, and its white shirt-button eye.

That grimace
Of getting right through to the end and beyond it --
That helm
So marvellously engineered

Discarded, an empty stencil.
A negative, pale
In the dreggy swirlings
Of earth's already begun mastication.

I freed it, I wanted to get it
Wedged properly mine
While the moment still held open.

As I lifted its child-heavy rubbery bulk
Marbled crimson like an old woman's fire-baked thigh
The shallows below lifted
A broad bow-wave lifted and came frowning
Straight towards me, setting the whole pool rocking,

and slid under smoothness into the trench at my feet.

Into the grave of steel
Which it could still buckle.

--Ted Hughes

***

"Year's End"

Now the seasons are closing their files
on each of us, the heavy drawers
full of certificates rolling back
into the tree trunks, a few old papers
flocking away. Someone we loved
has fallen from our thoughts,
making a little, glittering splash
like a bicycle pushed by a breeze.
Otherwise, not much has happened;
we fell in love again, finding
that one red reather on the wind.

--Ted Kooser

***

"Stone Thoughts"

I speak cold silent words a stone might speak
If it had words or consciousness,
Watching December moonlight on the mountain peak,
Relieved of mortal hungers, the whole mess
Of needs, desires, ambitions, wishes, hopes.
This stillness in me knows the sky's abyss,
Reflected by blank snow along bare slopes,
If it had words or consciousness,
Would echo what a thinking stone might say
To praise oblivion ords can't possess
As inorganic muteness goes its way.
There's no serenity without the thought serene,
Owl-flight without spread wings, honed eyes, hooked beak,
Absence without the meaning absence means.
To rescue bleakness from the bleak,
I speak cold silent words a stone might speak.

--Robert Pack

***

"Christmas East of the Blue Ridge"

So autumn comes to an end with these few wet sad stains
Stuck to the landscape,
December dark
Running its hands through the lank hair of late afternoon,
little tongues of the rain hold forth
under the eaves,
Such wash, such watery words . . .

So autumn comes to this end,
And winter's vocabulary, downsized and distanced,
Drop by drop
Captures the conversation with its monosyllabic gutturals
And tin music,
gravelly consonants, scratched vowels.

Soon the camel drivers will light their fires, soon the stars
Will start on their brief dip down from the back of heaven,
Down to the desert's dispensation
And night reaches, the gall and first birth,
The second ony one word from now,
one word and its death from right now.

Meanwhile, in Charlottesville, the half-moon
Hums like a Hottentot
high over Monticello,
Coulds dishevel and rag out,
The alphabet of our discontent
Keeps on with its lettering,
gold on the black walls of our hearts . . .

--Charles Wright

***

"Winter Song"

on a line from Arthur Waley

So I go on, tediously on and on . . .
We are separated, finally, not by death but life.
We cling to the dead, but the living break away.

On my birthday, the waxwings arrive in the garden,
strip the trees bare as my barren heart.
I put out suet and bread for December birds:
Hung from evergreen branches, greasy gray
Ornaments for the rites of the winter solstice.

How can you and I meet face to face
After our triumphant love?
After our failure?

Since this isolation, it is always cold.
My clothes don't fit. My hair refuses to obey.
And, for the first time, I permit
These little anarchies of flesh and object.
together, they flick me toward some final defeat.

Thinking of you, I am suddenly old . . .
A mute spectator as the months wind by.
I have tried to put you out of my mind forever.

Home isn't here. It went away with you,
Disappearing in the space of a breath,
In the time one takes to open a foreknown letter.
My fists are bruised from beating on the ground.
There are clouds between me and the watery light.

Truly, I try to flourish, to find pleasure
Without an endless reference to you
Who made the days and years seem worth enduring.

--Carolyn Kizer

***

"Natural"

The leaves are coming down in huge bunches now
(all I can think is hair after chemo), and we're to believe
the death around the corner of December is natural --
because it happens unstoppably, because it unhappens
when earth tires of being stone, when liquid comes alive
in the heartwood, the topsoil, so we've got to swallow
our medicine now, break out the scrapers and mittens,
and salute the natural order, which will mean at least
one ice storm per county, racking up 4.5 highway deaths
whether or not highways are natural, or the jaws of life,
for that matter, whcih is what's got its teeth around my
mother's wrist, holding on, her soul meanwhile
stalled out on the dark road right there in her living room
where her feet dig in, her knees unlock, she must be
dragged to her chair, she must be as tired of this
as her dragger, who is informed at monthly appointments
that this is a natural progression, even the newest
wrinkle: his sweetheart's wordless refusal
of the muffin he offers up to her clenched mouth,
just as for year he offered his parishioners grape juice,
little squares of white bread, the promise of eternal life.

--Ellen Doré Watson

***

"The First Day of Winter"

On the first day of winter,
the earth awakens to the cold touch of itself.
Snow knows no other recourse except
ths falling, this sudden letting go
over the small gnomed bushes, all the emptying trees.
Snow puts beauty back into the withered and malnourished,
into the death-wish of nature and the deliberate way
winter insists on nothing less than deference.
waiting all its life, snow says, Let me cover you.

--Laura Lush

***

"December 1"

The vineyard country, russet, reddish, carmine-brown in this season.
A blue outline of hills above a fertile valley.
It's warm as long as the sun does not set, in the shade cold returns.
A strong sauna and then swimming in a pool surrounded by trees.
Dark redwoods, transparent pale-leved birches.
In their delicate network, a sliver of the moon.
I describe this for I have learned to doubt philosophy
And the visible world is all that remains.

--Czeslaw Milosz
(translated by Czeslaw Milosz and Robert Hass)

***

"The Drift"

In Canada, he said, you have
a nuclear winter every year,
but the sun always, he said,
comes back, and you have
another wheat harvest.
The gift

I figure of the magi.

You will follow a star
if there is no sun. A moth
will aspire to Venus
if he cant find a flame.

so Christmas. It comes to Flin Flon
when Flin Flon, I mean for example,
needs it. a Canadian winter,
the one they show me on billboards,
is no idyl, the god of snow
does not fiddle, no cow I know
can jump from the foothills
over the moon.

2.

This is the month, and this
the happy morn, he said. Yes
and the unhappy are filled
with jubilation. It depends

like a full stocking off a fireplace
mantle, it depends. Do you see
the death of winter born
with the deepest December snow?

Do you see that billboard,
deep tire tracks in the white,
a Canadian winter -- it's
expensive. We know who's filled

with jubilation. Every winter
is new and every midnight is clear,
and someone has to pay
for those long tall magnesium candles

cuddled in their electronic silos,
round yon virgin, under the drift
of dry snow, belly deep in
the collected blood of the roast lamb.

3.

And then, they said, no spirit can walk abroad,
Flin Flon, hunkered at our heart, is sure,
its fires burn friendly molecules, some god
we celebrate clenches us, like a young woman
in a Japanese car, before the heater kicks in.

The night is wholesome, no planets strike.
Our friendly fire burns till dawn,
while north of us the Dew Line rots away.

No fairy tales, nor witch has power to charm,
so sacred is the time, so gracious,
so forgetful are we, so loud did santa
roar from his disguised moter
on the bare pavement, in the mall.

She's a schoolteacher, that's why
she's in that Japanese car. It is
almost new. It is driving along
one of the cross-hairs on a distant scope,
but she doesn't know that.

She thiks it is the invisible
Saskatchewan border. she can see lines of light
that are winter roofs
in Manitoba.

4.

What harvest?
What gift?
What magi?

In a drear-nighted December, he said,
too happy, happy tree,
your branches dont remember
their green fecility.

The tree, the tree, the Christmas
tree cut down dead, Jesus
come down, the old decorations
go back up, the star no sun on top.

The tree, dying slowly, like a world,
is covered with shiny
petroleum products, magic for the very young,
goodbye for a pine
that never will be.

This the happy never morn,
they'll chuck him over the fence,
brown in the back lane, crisp
in the wet snow; never count the rings,
his age, never see
the invisible god, never evergreen.

5.

If winter comes, he might say,
spring can be so far behind,
she'll never catch up.

If winter comes upon a midnight
new and clear, even Mr. Flin Flon
will not have time

to remember Satan, on his motor,
on the soft pavement, in the mall,
waving his bright red arm
at them all.

A sad song, a carol
at every doorstep.
We do need the time, this dark afternoon,
to sleep in earthly peace.

We do need, sleeping child,
we do need you, soil asleep
beneath a brittle snow.

We do need you, poets of the seed,
stacked in the warm shed,
waiting for an ancient sun.

We need you, too, you unnameable,
blow the flame off your candles,
climb out of that warm concrete hole,
put your heart's gloves on,

give us two hands, help us
push this little Japanese car
out of the drift.

--George Bowering












Comments:
Lovely series for December, Hedgie.
There is more than one favorite here.
 
some beauties here. love the first one especially. appreciate the exposure!
 
I enjoyed this very much - I'm always intrigued by how much I like your selections. And how little I know of contemporary poetry! Not enough time in the world to read it all... :(

Especially, especially enjoyed the translation of Czeslaw Milosz' poem ;)
 
Thanks, everyone; I'm glad you each found something to enjoy.
 
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