I will not write about
Christmas lights garlanding the tree,
how steadily red blends to sapphire emerald gold,
how strong the little bulbs must be to throw their dancing hearts
upon the café wall, how children try to catch them.
I will not say there is tinsel draped about the branches
like seaweed over pebbles, nor paint the cloths swaddling our skins
apricot, indigo, violet, teal. I will not speak of glazed
pastries on the counter, how they shine so much
they could be varnished, there for the hell-of-it, for the sheer
beauty of their glistening berries. I’ll turn away from buses heaving
down the rush-hour road, ignore how in all this rain
the headlamps could be tumbling garnets, polished amber,
as if a picture-book box of pirate treasure had spilt its pearls
and precious stones across a tarmacked page.
I will not
describe how the sun becomes the sea, I will not delight
in words to name its colours – cerise, crimson, indigo,
scarlet, madder, rose. I will not try to find a way
to show your smile across the table, how it slips like warm charcoal
into the fabric of my heart. I will not suggest I light a candle
as the year prepares to wane, that you hold a second wick to mine
then another and another, that together we whisper a prayer
for each growing flame. I will not talk about the light
that is everywhere, how far you have to travel for the sky
to be completely black (and even then there are stars, there is the moon’s
borrowed brightness). I will not question why fire burns more fiercely
before sputtering out, or how – when we know we’re dying –
we can be so fully alive. I will not say these things because this
is a poem about darkness. I am writing about the darkness.
Two poems for the last day of Christmas... Taking Down the Tree - Jane Kenyon
"Give me some light!" cries Hamlet's
uncle midway through the murder
of Gonzago. "Light! Light!" cry scattering
courtesans. Here, as in Denmark,
it's dark at four, and even the moon
shines with only half a heart.
The ornaments go down into the box:
the silver spaniel, My Darling
on its collar, from Mother's childhood
in Illinois; the balsa jumping jack
my brother and I fought over,
pulling limb from limb. Mother
drew it together again with thread
while I watched, feeling depraved
at the age of ten.
With something more than caution
I handle them, and the lights, with their
tin star-shaped reflectors, brought along
from house to house, their pasteboard
toy suitcases increasingly flimsy.
Tick, tick, the desiccated needles drop.
By suppertime all that remains is the scent
of balsam fir. If it's darkness
we're having, let it be extravagant.
Journey of the Magi - TS Eliot
A cold coming we had of it,
Just the worst time of the year
For a journey, and such a long journey:
The ways deep and the weather sharp,
The very dead of winter.'
And the camels galled, sorefooted, refractory,
Lying down in the melting snow.
There were times we regretted
The summer palaces on slopes, the terraces,
And the silken girls bringing sherbet.
Then the camel men cursing and grumbling
and running away, and wanting their liquor and women,
And the night-fires going out, and the lack of shelters,
And the cities hostile and the towns unfriendly
And the villages dirty and charging high prices:
A hard time we had of it.
At the end we preferred to travel all night,
Sleeping in snatches,
With the voices singing in our ears, saying
That this was all folly.
Then at dawn we came down to a temperate valley,
Wet, below the snow line, smelling of vegetation;
With a running stream and a water-mill beating the darkness,
And three trees on the low sky,
And an old white horse galloped away in the meadow.
Then we came to a tavern with vine-leaves over the lintel,
Six hands at an open door dicing for pieces of silver,
And feet kicking the empty wine-skins.
But there was no information, and so we continued
And arriving at evening, not a moment too soon
Finding the place; it was (you might say) satisfactory.
All this was a long time ago, I remember,
And I would do it again, but set down
This set down
This: were we led all that way for
Birth or Death? There was a Birth, certainly
We had evidence and no doubt. I had seen birth and death,
But had thought they were different; this Birth was
Hard and bitter agony for us, like Death, our death.
We returned to our places, these Kingdoms,
But no longer at ease here, in the old dispensation,
With an alien people clutching their gods.
I should be glad of another death.