Christmas five years ago, a few months after my husband and I had moved to Traverse City, we walked through Central neighborhood at night, awestruck as children at the snow falling like fairy dust through the streetlights. Now THIS is Christmas, we told each other. The whole 19th-century Clement Moore romance — Santa with his sleigh and the "moon on the crest of the new-fallen snow!"
I have a sister who lives in Houston. How can you have Christmas there? But of course you can. This poem by Timothy Steele takes place in L.A. He's stringing his Christmas lights. His neighbors of various religious persuasions stroll by to offer suggestions and praise. They're all conscious of the time of year.
The days have shrunk to their shortest — we need to light our small lights to remind us that the big light will be returning. It's a great religious celebration; it's a great celebration, in general, in the middle of "bleak mid-winter" as Christina Rosetti put it in her own fine poem. We get to see the cold and dark through a window of warmth and light. If we're one of the fortunate ones.
In the last stanza of this poem, Steele writes, "while all changes, nothing's lost." We may lose certain cultural traditions, maybe even our own religious convictions have changed, but we don't lose the turning of the seasons, the endings and beginnings.
Everything's different. Our country is radically different from when Clement Moore wrote "A Visit from St. Nicholas" in 1822. But everything's the same.
At the end of T.S. Eliot's "Four Quartets" are these lines: We shall not cease from exploration / And the end of all our exploring / Will be to arrive where we started /And know the place for the first time."
Toward the Winter Solstice
Although the roof is just a story high,
It dizzies me a little to look down.
I lariat-twirl the cord of Christmas lights
And cast it to the weeping birch's crown;A dowel into which I've screwed a hook
Enables me to reach, lift, drape, and twine
The cord among the boughs so that the bulbs
Will accent the tree's elegant design.
Friends, passing home from work or shopping, pause
And call up commendations or critiques.
I make adjustments. Though a potpourri
Of Muslims, Christians, Buddhists, Jews, and Sikhs,
We all are conscious of the time of year;We all enjoy its colorful displays
And keep some festival that mitigates
The dwindling warmth and compass of the days.
Some say that L.A. doesn't suit the Yule,
But UPS vans now like magi make
Their present-laden rounds, while fallen leaves
Are gaily resurrected in their wake; The desert lifts a full moon from the east
And issues a dry Santa Ana breeze,
And valets at chic restaurants will soon
Be tending flocks of cars and SUVs.
And as the neighborhoods sink into dusk
The fan palms scattered all across town stand
More calmly prominent, and this place seems
A vast oasis in the Holy Land.
This house might be a caravansary,
The tree a kind of cordial fountainhead
Of welcome, looped and decked with necklaces
And ceintures of green, yellow, blue, and red.
Some wonder if the star of Bethlehem
Occurred when Jupiter and Saturn crossed;It's comforting to look up from this roof
And feel that, while all changes, nothing's lost,
To recollect that in antiquity
The winter solstice fell in Capricorn
And that, in the Orion Nebula,
From swirling gas, new stars are being born. --Timothy Steele (from "Toward the Winter Solstice," Swallow Press/Ohio University Press, 2006, www.ohioswallow.com).
Fleda Brown is professor emerita, University of Delaware, and past poet laureate of Delaware. For more of her work, go to www.fledabrown.com.