night poem, December 16, 2017

The train flies out of the night like a running bull

It’s engine the magic of centuries, its long body the weight of earth’s lodes

Beside and beneath the rails the sound pummels and batters

Like overwhelming surf, like waves that swirl and crash

Where even the strong man is tossed and helpless

Those who stand at the crossing as they have a thousand times

Wonder once again at the violent storm.

.

But inside there are lamps on white-clothed tables

And there the sound is musical and hypnotic

Clickety-clack, clickety-clack

Cancelling the noise of the city and the vacuum of the open country

Cancelling, even, the ubiquitous ticking of the clock

The train’s time is its own time

There is nothing to be done between south and north

But order at the club car

Five hundred miles and ninety years have dissolved

It’s 1927 and the waiter has a white towel over his forearm

It’s midnight, but the beef is still warm and service continues

Till arrival, when the train stops and time comes flooding back

.

In the car the men dining wear brown suits, they are not worried

They talk to the  calm and bright women in dresses as if they never had a care

And the train flies on, out of the night, like a bull, 400 miles to go.

 

copyright 2017

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mid-day poem, December 15, 2017

 

Out the door

And to the store

For groceries all prosaic

.

But I’ll play myself the songs

Of Dylan and the Stones

To remind of life’s mosaic

 

copyright 2017

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Winter Morning

 

 

Absence of heat

Absence of light

Songbirds are gone now

Absence of flight

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Not even molecules

Move in the air

There is no love

No one to care

.

I wait for the old man

To walk down the alley

Like General Grant

He makes the troops rally

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He knows the winter

Better than me

He lives there all year

And yet he is free

.

He knows all the coldness

Of silence and age

Yet smiles at the darkness

And turns one more page

 

copyright 2017

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morning poem, December 15, 2017

Brittle cold

The songbirds fold

The fields are silver

The forest old

.

Nothing bends

Not even wind

All quiet now

All gathered in

.

The frozen line

The naked vine

The empty lane

And icy shine.

 

Copyright 2017

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What’s So Good About Christmas?

 

 

I have a Jewish friend who is raising two young daughters right here in middle America.  Matters of religion are a bit unsettled in his house.  His wife isn’t Jewish, but doesn’t seem to be particularly Christian, either.  This friend said something to me years ago about his daughters being impressed with Christianity because “the Christian holidays are better than the Jewish ones.”  I didn’t pry into this.  I don’t want our friendship to become a contest between faiths, but the comment was striking to me.

When anyone makes reference to “Christian holidays,” particularly when that reference is to the opinions of two young girls here in the United States, they must be talking about Christmas.  After all, what other Christian holidays are there that might be familiar to kids who are not church goers?  Easter?  Maybe.   But what would there be about the celebration of Easter that would distinguish it in the eyes of children who are viewing things from the outside.  (Of course the story of Easter is the most remarkable story in the world, but I am talking here about the manner of celebrating it as that manner might be obvious to outsiders.)

What the girls surely had in mind in ranking the “Christian holidays” above the Jewish must have been Christmas and what impressed them was probably not the story itself but rather the substance and mode of its celebration.  That is what they’ve likely seen at school and on television and in the streets.

We are bombarded with sermons and articles telling us what is wrong with our modern celebration of Christmas, but the opinion of these two little girls got me thinking another way: what is right about the way we celebrate Christmas?  Why were the girls drawn to this celebration above all the others?

That celebration is complex and varied.  How much of it is musical.  The carols: some new, some ancient, some soothing, some joyous.   Here music that is overtly religious has entered the mainstream, secular culture like almost nowhere else. There are lots of segments of our society – some with power and influence – that will clinch and chafe at any sermon or comment referencing the Incarnation.  “Sectarian,” they will call it.  But lots of these same people, it seems to me, will not turn the dial when “O, Come All Ye Faithful” comes on the radio in mid-December. (They’ll rationalize this, saying “Well, that’s just a part of the culture,” but that is exactly what I mean.  Christmas celebration, even the most blatantly religious parts of that celebration,  has made its way into the American mainstream and seems to stay there even in this deeply divided world of ours.)

Back to the original question: why?  That is, why has the celebration of Christmas penetrated?  What is so good about it?  What distinguishes it from other religious holidays in the minds of these non-partisan little girls?

The music?  Well, yes.  Christmas music, lots of it anyway, is really good music, even by high-critical standards.  And the impulse that produced the carols has bled over into the world and inspired the writing of dozens of songs – not carols and not exactly religious – that celebrate the season in a way that, if not expressly embracing the underlying story, is at least suggestive of and not antithetical to it.

To cut to the chase here, even though these two little girls might be sophisticated enough to give more subtle answers, we who are older might suspect that what really attracts them about Christmas is the presents.  And the knee-jerk reaction of so many to such an emotion is that it is all wrong and has resulted in crass commercialization.  I want to argue the other way.

Christmas is a celebration of the Incarnation.  That means something real, something material, something we can touch.  Like real gifts, really there, under the tree, for you and me.  Christmas is wonderful for children because it unabashedly appeals to one of the great human needs and hungers – the satisfaction of our desires, here and now.

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Morning Poem, December 13, 2017

Psalm 57: 8
Awake up, my glory; awake psaltery and harp: I myself will awake early.

 

Think of David as he lies on the mountain

He looks at the night sky

Unending, unfathomable, unreachable

The diamond stars

The firmament that declares the glory of God

And he aches

His heart panting like the hart after the waterbrook

At his side are sword, spear and bow

His body is cut from oak, his skin like leather

His mind a blade itself, with razor’s edge

He breathes the open air and the day’s tension dissolves

He rests in the shadow of the wings of the Almighty

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This man who killed the giant

And tens of thousands

Hears heaven’s choir and plays on his harp

Songs that soothe the savage breast of Saul

His poems are those very psalms

That have charmed and inspired

Over millennia

And he aches

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At first light, at first rustling of dawn

He turns and shakes away sleep

Here is a new day

He rises, believing the promise

“Awake up, my glory”

.

What is his glory?

One more win in bloody combat?

Or is it that unknowable thing

That all men share with him

That desire beneath all desires

That lesser men have long since forgotten

And forfeited to the unrelenting fates

That lesser men are afraid to confess

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Does David wake early

Expecting glory in bloodshed

Or does he crave

That his righteousness will shine like the dawn

And the justice of his cause like the noonday sun?

Does he crave that gift, that grace, that dispensation

That is his and his alone?

That unspeakable grace promised to him

When he first came to know himself?

.

Is the difference between him and me

That he believes it will happen

And maybe this very day

And so he wakes early

And takes in hand

Psaltery and harp

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morning poem, December 12, 2017

James 1: 6-8   . . . he that wavereth is like a wave of the sea driven with the wind and tossed. For let not that man think that he shall receive any thing of the Lord. A double minded man is unstable in all his ways

 

 

Outside the snow swirls in the air

This way and that

As if the wind is angry

And double minded

.

Wait and look

For the gale to settle

And for the snow

To drift down weightless

Like a blessing.

Like a backdrop

To some sweet carol

 

copyright 2017

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Morning Poem, December 7, 2017

 

Image result for orion

 

 

 

 

In winter I can see Orion through my window

There in the southwest sky before dawn

He stands above Mrs. Finn’s great oak

His hounds knee deep in the naked, reaching fingers of the tree

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The ancients saw the sky as a mystery

To them it held portents, they saw combinations of stars

As held together, like the parts of a body

And imagined the work and the persons of gods and titans

All governing the affairs of men

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God’s poet wrote this:

“The heavens declare the glory of God

And the firmament sheweth His handiwork”

But what about Mrs. Finn’s oak tree?

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In this frame of mine, in this hour of dark drama

Of silent, ubiquitous speech

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The psalmist said of the stars:

“Day unto day uttereth speech

And night unto night sheweth knowledge

There is no speech or language

Where their voice is not heard”

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What about Mrs. Finn’s tree

On which the giant, bright hunter now strides?

Is the earth now connected to the cosmic drama?

To the unknowable; those things that have astonished men

And set them dreaming?

.

Isaiah told that the trees shall clap their hands

And Paul that all of creation groans

With the hope of a new world

 

copyright 2017

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New Chapter

Readers;
Some of you who have hung around this blog for some time will know that I started a couple of new novels early in 2017 and then just dropped them altogether.  That’s not an unusual thing for writers.  CS Lewis said that almost every book he wrote had spend years in some desk drawer before being taken out and finished.
One of the books is about an American entrepreneur who lived in the early part of the 20th century and who falls in love with a young Austrian princess.  I’ve picked this story up again and I am tinkering with scenes and characters.  Below is a draft of a new scene that I dashed off this morning.  It takes place in about 1912, before the start of WWI.
If you are intrigued and would like a bit more of the story to put this post into context, just search the word “Austria” in the search engine on this page.  There will be three or four posts that will come up from the fall of 2106.  You can whip through those in no time and have a better idea about what is going on here.
Ed. 

 

 

Image result for mountain estates in austria

 

William Martin first saw Princess Catherine’s father in the great hall of the castle Burg Hohenwerfen.  Martin saw the man standing just inside the grand entrance.  It was early evening in mid-summer and the last of the day’s sunlight streamed through the tall windows in the west wall.  As they awaited the call to dine the courtiers stood in circles of five and six, casting their long shadows across the marble floor.  Their conversations made a low hum in the hallway.  The men in various, complicated forms of military dress, red, blue, white and gold and ribbons and medals everywhere, hair and beards carefully tended, bellies bulging; the women in belling gowns, standing erect, their waists cinched tight.

But the prince stood alone and spoke only in passing to those who lately wandered into the hall from the gardens of the upstairs rooms.  He was trim and clean shaven.

Martin did not know the prince; did not know that this was the man to whom he would submit his petition for Catherine’s hand; did not know that this was the man who would influence Martin’s own destiny and the life of the town in America where Martin would build his family and fortune.  Nonetheless, Martin was struck by the aura of this singular figure who was distinguished here by his carefree but alert demeanor and by the fact that he quite obviously did not seek distinction.

In only two weeks, all had changed.  Martin knew he was in love with Catherine and knew that he could not leave Bavaria without asking for her hand and knew further that his suit for her was all but doomed.  She was Austrian nobility, he the commonest of American commoners.  She, beautiful, rich and of the one hundred families, would be sought after by the best and brightest men that her nation had to offer.  The future of the nation and the continuation of family and culture were in her.  He would never let her leave.

But when the day came, Martin stated his intentions without hesitation or apology.  He told the prince that his own fortune was considerable and growing, but that his business was all in America and that was where his life would have to be lived.

“You know that parting with Catherine would be parting with my very life.  My very soul.”

“Yes, sir.  I do.  I know that I am asking for the world.  More than many men would be bold enough to ask for.  I know that I may very well be refused.  But I can do no other.  I have never seen such beauty and grace in any other creature and I know that I never will again.  She has opened my soul and allowed me happiness and fulfillment that I never before imagined.  And what I have learned of life tells me that to cower from great venture is to invite regret.”

“Do you know what is coming here?” the prince asked.

“I don’t know your meaning.  Are you speaking of the season?  Of tomorrow?”

“No.   I am speaking of the end.”

“The end?  The end of what?”

“This  gilded and powdered world.  My world.  This very place where we break bread.  It is all coming to an end. It may take years, even decades, but it may come tomorrow.  It cannot last.”

“No.  I don’t know that.  I don’t know what you’re talking about.  But tell me of it, please.”

“There is not a man in this castle who could win a fair fight with the girl who scrubs the floors.  There is not a man in this castle that could scale any of the peaks that surround us.  There is not a man in this castle who cares for the poor.  What is coming is God’s judgement.  We have left undone what ought to have been done and done that which ought not to have been done.  We spend the nation’s fortune on our own ostentation.”

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Night Poem, December 5, 2017

 

You never thought you’d see the day

On this side of that river

When enemies and fears would fade

And you would be delivered

.

But the time of testing now has passed

Your faith has become sight

And all the doors that closed on you

Now open to the light

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