Friday, December 21, 2012

Poetry Friday: light the darkest night

Poetry Friday is here and now, on the Winter Solstice, when the sun stands briefly still at its lowest point on the horizon.  All day shadows are long, and the night, when it comes, is the longest night of the year.  But take heart, diurnal creatures:  poetry has the power to light the dark! 
Susan Cooper (yes, that Susan Cooper, of the The Dark Is Rising series) leads the procession of those who call the sun to return.
The Shortest Day | Susan Cooper

And so the Shortest Day came and the year died
And everywhere down the centuries of the snow-white world
Came people singing, dancing,
To drive the dark away.
They lighted candles in the winter trees;
They hung their homes with evergreen;
They burned beseeching fires all night long
To keep the year alive.
And when the new year's sunshine blazed awake
They shouted, revelling.

Through all the frosty ages you can hear them
Echoing behind us - listen!
All the long echoes sing the same delight,
This Shortest Day,
As promise wakens in the sleeping land:
They carol, feast, give thanks,
And dearly love their friends,
And hope for peace.
And now so do we, here, now,
This year and every year.

Welcome Yule!

A couple of folks who don't blog sent me poems to light the dark ahead of time.  This one, by the woods-whisperer Joyce Sidman, reminds us that furred and feathered creatures also eat and drink of the light.
Winter Solstice, At the Feeder | Joyce Sidman

In your burrows under the snow
all you will hear
is the dry swirl of frozen breath,
the rasp of bare limbs,
the slow stamp of some large creature. 
On this coldest of mornings,
when all is either stone or dust
and the shadows reach blue fingers
into the splintered air,
I am planting flowers of the sun. 
Each seed drops into the powder,
a striped case holding its secret map
of burning velvet yellow.
Can you smell it, this promise,
this nugget of unconsumed heat? 
I can see by your footprints
that you have been here before.
Pheasant hen, finch and mouse:
when I am gone, come and eat.
Turn your faces toward the light. 
from Like the Air, Finishing Line Press, 1999.  Reprinted with permission.

Another echo, unclad of the mists of time, came to my inbox via the Academy of American Poets.  In it, Jake Adam York (go to the obituary of this suddenly, recently departed poet to wish for More Time) addresses not the literal sun, but a musician who knew himself to be of the "Angel Race" of Saturn. Reading this poem, I felt the longing many of us have, as we rush around the shopping malls and freeway interchanges, to connect with the ebb and flow of the cosmos.  To see, "To get it dark enough," we "have to fold back/into the hills, into the trees."

Letter Already Broadcast into Space | Jake Adam York

                         -To Sun Ra, from Earth

You are not here,

you are not here
in Birmingham,
        where they keep your name,

not in Elmwood's famous plots
                or the monuments
of bronze or steel or the strew

        of change in the fountain
where the firehoses sprayed.

                In the furnaces, in the interchange sprawl
        that covers Tuxedo Junction,

in the shopping malls, I think,
                they've forgotten you,

the broadcast towers, the barbecues,

        the statue of the Roman god,
spiculum blotting out
                part of the stars.

To get it dark enough,
        I have to fold back
into the hills, into the trees

                where my parents
planted me, where the TV
        barely reaches and I drift

with my hand on the dial
                of my father's radio,

spinning, too, the tall antenna
        he raised above the pines.

I have to stand at the base

                of the galvanized
pole I can use as an azimuth
        and plot you in.

The hunter's belt is slung again,
                and you are there

in the pulse, in the light of
        Alnitak, Alnilam, Mintaka,

all your different names,

                you are there
in all the rearrangements
        of the stars.

                        Come down now,
come down again,

                like the late fall light
into the mounds along the creek,

        light that soaks like a flood
to show the Cherokee sitting upright
                underground, light

like the fire they imply.

        Come down now
into the crease the freight train
                hits like a piano's hammer

and make the granite hum

                        Come down now

as my hand slips from the dial,
                tired again of looking
for the sound of another way

        to say everything.

Come down now with your diction
                and your dictionary.

Come down, Uncle, come down
        and help me rise.

I have forgot my wings.
Some remember their wings through a rather famous book of poetry.  This piece is contributed by my father, a Lutheran pastor.  The poet is John (yes, that John, of the New Testament).

"In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.
In him was life, and the life was the light of all people.
The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it.
The true light, which enlightens everyone, was coming into the world.
He was in the world, and the world came into being through him; yet the world did not know him.
But to all who received him, who believed in his name, he gave power to become children of God,
And the Word became flesh and lived among us, and we have seen his glory, the glory as of a father's only son, full of grace and truth."
Gospel of John, selected verses 1-14

And how does a nice Lutheran girl, a PK, become a pagan-tinted Unitarian Universalist who tracks the sun's journey around the wheel of the year?  I can only say that it's there in my cells (and in Pumpkin Butterfly).
Solar-Powered Sun Puppet | Heidi Mordhorst
the dark side of me
glowers inside
drags at the tips of my toes
it feeds on clouds
on rainy skies
and only my shadow knows:
how heavy
the day is
how low the horizon
how sodden
and sad
I am
then sweet sun punches a hole in the clouds
sizzles and swims in my eyes
my shadow spills out through a hole in my sole
my darker side hung out to dry
how sudden and mad I am!
I’m sunny side up
I’m pumped full of light 
my silhouette dances on walls
Now I can see clearly:
my dark doppelganger
freed by the sun's high call
my demon cast out, my shadow of doubt
is the shadow that proves that I am!
I hope that you and yours will find living light--outer and inner--on this shortest day, this darkest night and all through the season.  Now for the Round-Up!

April Halprin Wayland led us to the archway of the Solstice with an original poem she posted last week at Teaching Authors, her last post for 2012.  It's called "Winter Solstice: Girl Talking to the Sun."

Irene Latham leads on with an original poem "First Day of Winter" that appears in her book WHAT CAME BEFORE.

More ways to see winter come from Laura Purdie Salas, who gives us a triolet of icicles to catch the glancing light.

Bridget Magee joins us from Wee Words for Wee Ones with a "Solstice Song." 

Diane Mayr shares a slew of seasonal selections.  At Random Noodling she has 2 original poems with two very different views of St. Lucy's Day.  St. Lucy's Day originally coincided with the winter solstice.  At KK's Kwotes there's a quote by A. E. Housman and at Kurious Kitty a Housman poem.  It's not a celebration of the solstice, but echoes her feelings this week. And finally, at The Write Sisters, Diane has an original solstice tanka in an illustrated form.

Nonfiction expert and poet Buffy Silverman has done us the honor of writing her very first blog post ever for today's Winter Solstice celebration.  She brings us the "Colored Candles" of Chanukah.  Welcome, Buffy!

Tabatha Yeatts at The Opposite of Indifference takes us back to the beginning with a poem about the Norse goddess Freya, and, coincidentally...

Robyn Hood Black celebrates the Winter Solstice with Tabatha's "In the Great Book of Winter" at Read, Write, Howl.

Mary Lee Hahn shares an original from the Winter Poem Swap organized by the very busy Tabatha, called "Sensing the Solstice."

Amy Ludwig Vanderwater joins in with "A Candle No One Else Can See" at The Poem Farm.

Laura Shovan writes, "My post is in response to the Sandy Hook shootings. After 9-11, I heard a Wendell Berry poem that begins, 'Now you know the worst we humans have to know about ourselves.' It has always stuck with me, and came to mind last week. It is about combating darkness with the light of love."
From Liz Steinglass at Growing Wild, a piquant mouthful called "Seasonal Feasts."

Marjorie brings some Caribbean sunshine to our northerly darkness with a post on John Agard at Paper Tigers.
Linda Kulp shares granchildren rhymes at Write Time.

Tara's offering is Mary Oliver's "The Gardener," from her new collection.
Matt Forrest Esenwine has cookies over at Radio, Rhythm and Rhyme.  Yum!

Margaret Simon is lighting the dark with some reflections.

Renee LaTulippe is playing with homophones today at No Water River, and my apologies for an oversight...Renee also has a Grinchy Christmas poem and poetry video by guest poet Penny Klostermann called "Max Mostly Moves On":

Matt Goodfellow has a poem inspired by information on the Solstice.

Iza has "Christmas Memories" from New York from us on her blog.

Violet shares a two-part poem that riffs on various aspects of Christmas.

Today Linda at TeacherDance hones in on the important things in life--a good exercise at any time of year.

More music for us at Mother Reader:  Peace Love and Understanding!

Ruth is in with "Winter Stars" by Sara Teasdale.  It's killing me that I don't have time to go and read these until tomorrow!

Little Willow has posted Last Answers by Carl Sandburg at Bildungsroman.

Kate's "darkness into light" poem is here at Book Aunt.

Charles Ghignawould like to help light the dark with "Present Light" at The FATHER GOOSE Blog.

Fats Suela is in today at Gathering Books with Jack Prelutsky's "I'm Wrestling with an Octopus." It's far from being a solstice poem, but definitely in keeping with the bimonthly theme "Stream of Stories and Whispering Water Tales."
Sheri Doyle is in with a poem and a song about light and dreams.

Joy has not only ornaments but poetry crafts at Poetry for Kids Joy!

Gregory K has surprised himself by posting an original poem today:  Oh, Well

Thanks to all who are brightening a grey and rainy morning here in Bethesda, and who helped me ready this post along with the gingerbread men, chestnut pate and parsnip roulade.  I'll be rounding up again at 1:30 or so, but by evening my family will be lighting the 12 candles on our Yule tree and speaking our Winter Solstice words:  "On this dark night we celebrate light and power of the human spirit to brighten and warm the season of cold and dark..."  Thanks for visiting, and I look forward to making my way to all your postings during the weekend!

Friday, December 14, 2012


Once again I have participated in a round of SPARK, which randomly matches artists and writers who exchange inspiration pieces and then produce response pieces over a ten-day period.  I always look forward to the challenge and to "meeting" a fellow artiste, and I've found that many of them are writers as well as painters or photographers or sculptors.  Some people just gotta express themselves!

This time I was working from two inspirations, really.  Recently my friend Charles Waters sent me perhaps the best compliment I will ever receive.  Charles wrote that he liked my poems in The Poetry Friday Anthology (nice enough in itself!) and then, "I do believe if e.e. cummings and Emily Dickinson had a baby it would be you."

Oh my.  If ever there was a compliment worth living up to, that's it.  I even began to hope it might somehow actually be true (no offense to my actual earthly parents), and I went and double-checked birth and death dates to see if Emily and Edward might ever have met.  (No.  Emily died eight years before e.e. was born.)  Still, I was wearing Charles's lovely speculation on my head like a crown (that's how good it made me feel) when I received a photo from Jules Rolfe (see it here), and so my response poem is all metaphysical and punctuated.


Many thanks to Jules for her wonderful Nebraska landscape and to Charles for his generous challenge!

The Round-Up today is with Jama at
Jama's Alphabet Soup--always a tasty smorgasbord of treats. And next week I'll be your host right here; if you're planning to participate in my Solstice-themed edition of Poetry Friday, feel free to send me your links as early as you like!

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

OIK Tuesday: overheard in the car

Every year at our congregation there's a holiday party between the two services, which offers kids the chance to make cards for sick kids, donate mittens to the mitten tree, roll up little goodies in crepe paper streamers that become Joy Balls intended for parents' stockings.  But you know what they head for first, don't you?  It's the graham cracker "gingerbread" house station, which gets its own whole room.

Both kids took quite a bit of time and effort over theirs this year (Duncan's being thatched with red licorice whips and then further shingled with brown M&Ms. There has been a lot of damaging weather this year and you just can't be too careful in a time of climate change), and on the way home in the car ("MOM!  Would you mind driving a little more carefully!") they commented on the less designed, less elegant approach of some fellow architects. 

"Most of them end up looking like sheds more than houses!"


Gingerbread Shed 

Four walls, flat roof
to make a lid—
built a bunker’s
all you did.
Shape is lost in
gobs of frosting.
Your hands, and arms,
and neck
need washing.
That’s no house—
it’s a gingerbread shed
to store the tools
of a sugarhead:
is that a froot loop on your face?
your eyes say “Rush me to Insane.”
That’s no house—
it’s a gingerbread shed.
Now give me that
and go to bed.

Heidi Mordhorst 2012

Postscript:  Duncan pronounces this "the best thing you've written in a long time.  It rhymes and it tells the ideas in a way I can comprehend!"  I guess my campaign in defense of sensitive free verse for children is not over.

Thursday, December 6, 2012

OIK Thursday: profligate

She was trying to explain the quality of her work with a particularly challenged, particularly unready group of kindergarteners.  Leaning wearily on the table in the teachers' lounge, she slalomed her hands forward like slippery fish.

"We're just doing the best we can, squandering our way into learning."


Go on--

Use up every yip and shout!
Waste every chance to taste the paste
to plunge your fingers into paint
to wallow in the fallen blocks
to bear-hug buddies on the rug

Empty every box of counters!
Dump the baskets full of books!
Don't hold back,
don't save or budget--
Spend it, spill it all right now

Splash out every flash of wonder,
squander every surge of squeal!
Tomorrow is another day and
all amazed, we wake up wealthy.
Looks like learning grows on trees.

Heidi Mordhorst | 2012