Monday, December 24, 2012

December 24


Silent night!
Holy night!
All is calm,
All is bright...

...They say that year that errant mice
Had chewed the organ bellows through --
With Father Joseph in the lurch
On Christmas Eve: the mass was soon,
Keyboard kaput: ah, what to do?
So on the organist's advice,
He wrote words to a simple tune
To play that night for all the church.

The pews were full, the candles blazed;
They sang the folklike melody
(Fritz strummed the chords on his guitar)
And yet: the listening church fell muted
As though it held eternity;
With all of Heaven stunned, amazed,
Angelic counterpoint refuted
By childlike song from Earth afar.

And even now the magic lingers.
It's hard to ruin, as carols go,
Played on mall speakers (even canned) --
And hectic shoppers pause a while
In pensive thought, and sometimes grow
Quite misty-eyed -- till restless fingers
Wheel their cart, hungry, down the aisle
In search of the next deal at hand.


Stille Nacht!
Heilige Nacht!
Alles schläft,
Einsam wacht…

...For months the desperate armies both had fought
And dearly paid in human life; they sought
To push across the top and through the mud
And win their prize -- the next trench filled with blood.
As meteor-like the hurtling missiles fell
In endless stream to turn the world to Hell,
They charged in hope; they bled, they died, they feared.
And still the war dragged on…and Christmas neared.

And in the German lines one winter night
The Allied soldiers saw a flickering light.
Another came: a Christmas tree was braced
Against the maze of twisted wire they faced.
From nowhere -- so it seemed -- the singing rose.
And who can say which wary side first chose
To lift the flag of truce in trembling hand
And, risking all, climb into no-man's-land?

…But someone did. "No shooting!" came the call,
And "Frohe Weinachten!" -- As one and all
Emerged, they swapped their handshakes and their smokes
And traded tales of family, and jokes;
And as their newborn trust, still fragile, grew,
They sang as one the carol they all knew,
Brought food to trade and gifts from home to share
As snowflakes softly spiraled through the air --
And there between death's valleys played a game
Of soccer (Fußball, by its German name),
With caps for goalposts, though the wind was chilling.
(...Next day, of course, they all went back to killing.)


Silent night!
Holy night!
Son of God,
Love's pure light...

…The little hut beneath the stars lay hushed,
The streets asleep; and in the early morn
The Saviour of the world at last was born,
His cradle by white doves' wings gently brushed.

And as the night passed, in the people swarmed
To see the promised babe, his reign begun.
Great king and shepherd humbly knelt as one;
The music swelled, the dawnlight grew and warmed --

And all throughout the town smiles flashed, hearts leapt;
And high above the shining stable winging
A thousand angels burst out sweetly singing;
The sun rose, and the world was changed…

The powers that ruled Rome were not perturbed.
New wars were launched; men's lives and wine still sold,
Peace taxed and freedom measured out in gold
As Caesar's rule went on (quite undisturbed).

In Bethlehem the bright song changed to tears;
Another Roman governor ascended;
A thousand rebels' lives (or two) were ended
To keep the peace -- just like in other years.

And down in Nazareth, alone, rejected,
A little boy sat head in hands and wept
Whose teenage mother (gossips said) had slept
With some strange man.
                                                                    ...what had we expected?

For it is clear -- if ever there was doubt --
The truest magic moment cannot save us;
For all the snowfall's gleaming purity,
The memories of childhood Christmasses,
Angelic song; and our forgotten yearnings
That break upon us unawares and leave
Us trembling with a strange lump in our throat;
New-risen stars, the birth of Love itself --

All pass. The stars wheel slowly west, and set;
The crisp-edged snowflake's fractal clarity
Dissolves to formless water in our grasp;
The piercing icicle, too, melts and blurs,
Our dreams fade like the finely-patterned frost;
And though eternity may in a flash
Be grasped, the afterimage tends to die
Too quickly, with our half-voiced, weak resolve.

And all the world around us, too intent
On dragging us back into tepid slumber
(Our habits well-formed for its benefit);
And Time, for all its vastness, has a way
Of sliding seamless past our clinging hands
As we sit, patient, waiting for salvation,
The heroes of our worship doomed to fall --
To watch our world's long nightmare still drag on.

All will be well (some say, in blithe assurance)
And all things will be well at last -- perhaps;
But only with our doing. None will change
This ravaged, suffering world, but you and me --
And, saving it, ourselves to be redeemed.
No, not through Advent's episodic grace
But by what still awaits: the tedious slog
Through all the long mundanity of winter.


O come, grownups, Kinder;
O come one and all:
In awe come and enter
This strange starlit stall;
Done with our long waiting,
See Love's new-breathed birth;
And go, then, creating
Our long yearned-for earth.

Come child and come mystic,
Come old and come young,
Believer and skeptic;
Our song but half-sung,
All moved by the mystery
Of this grace unearned,
Warned by our dark history
And all we have learned.

For Advent is done now,
Yet still we know fear;
Our work just begun now
(And night lingers near) --
But, in dawn's faint gleaming,
Come quickly to see
The world of our dreaming
That someday might be.


So: this is the beginning. …Now my tale
Is told; the coals banked, dimmed our fire's heat;
And round the windows blows the rising gale.

Perhaps, before night ends, there will be sleet.
Yet inside there is warmth; true, walls may fail;
But in sun's rising, we may yet defeat

All terrors which our hands freed from their tether.
…For good or ill, our time of choice draws near;
And January's hail and howling weather

Still lie ahead. Undaunted, then, by fear,
And led by love -- come, let us now together
Go forth, in hope, into this newborn year.

(The End.)

Sunday, December 23, 2012

December 23

He lived above the land in terraced tower
A prince by birth where most were but a pawn
He took his lessons at the school of power
And roamed the winding maze of Babylon

And they told him that the moon had turned to scarlet
And they said the sun had darkened at his birth
The favored firstborn to the age's harlot:
The Antichrist who must destroy the earth.

With his destined foe
The war must soon begin
And it must be so
No matter what he willed
That they both must fight
For only one could win
Black or white, kill or be killed --
For every prophecy must be fulfilled.

Long years he watched the skies for his arrival
A Healer King who would the world unite
And raised a force against his fated rival
A horde of black to slay the Lord of Light

Then on his dark horse riding out to slaughter
As silver trumpets echoed from on high
And stars rained down into the blazing water
He thundered out his challenge to the sky

But silent fell the fountain
And none came to oppose him
No echo from the mountain
And dark the stars that chose him
The combat raged around his rasping breath
And yet the only foe he saw -- was Death.


He threw his sword into the lake of fire
Dismissed the army, bade the battle cease
Fair flowers blossomed in the blackened mire
The mountain waste became a land of peace

He called the crowds in through the great gates streaming
Laid down his crown and left his gilded throne;
Green grew the vineyards round the cities gleaming
A realm where love and justice ruled alone.

The years passed and he couldn't help but ponder
On why his adversary never came
And to the Sybil's cave resolved to wander
To see his face and know the strange man's name

She led him in and to his story listened
Into the glassy waters bid him stare
He gazed in as the mystic fountain glistened
And saw his own reflection mirrored there.

With his destined foe
The war must soon begin
And it must be so
No matter what he willed
That they both must fight
For only one could win
Black or white, kill or be killed --
For every prophecy must be fulfilled.

Saturday, December 22, 2012

December 22

As I walked through the cold night of a dream
Air crisp and wind-chilled, half moon almost set,
The drops that seeped on stone shone icy wet,
Mist in faint film beneath stars' paling gleam;
And glancing up I spotted in the west
A new star like a dull red eye that burned,
And tracked its path down twisting roads that turned
To wind above the sleeping city's crest.

And on the hill I saw a shadow stand
In stone-like stillness perched above the world
With feathered darkness at his back unfurled,
A tapered length of blackness in his hand
That hissed and smouldered in the falling light;
I, knowing him, choked out: "Then you have come
To end all things?" His voice like crystal hum
Serene remarked: "It will begin tonight."

As he spoke on I stood, struck mute by awe:
"New young thrive and their elders pass away;
Your haughty race has had its sunlit day --
Why should you be immune to natural law?
The great age of the trilobites lies far;
The mammoths are no more; and in the deep
The kingly lizards lie in stately sleep
Their passing heralded, too, by a star.

By his son Zeus, the God of Time was slain
Who killed his father; just so are your hands
Stained with your Mother Earth's blood that demands
Fair retribution." Knowing it in vain,
Yet I began my plea. "Another chance --
I beg, have mercy; still among us dwell
Some who would change our course --" …And silent fell
Pierced by a single adamantine glance.

"You waste your breath," he said. "I may not yield.
I am but a sword-bearer and a voice;
The doom that I declare is of your choice
Soon wrought by forces you presumed to wield."
"And still --" I challenged -- "though all hope is banished,
I swear to fight you yet and never tire."
And with a smile like subatomic fire
He soundlessly saluted me, and vanished.

December 21

On Solstice Morning

I had imagined light this morn
that in the pale east rose reborn
at sun's return this first young day
as through the mists a rift was torn

and slowly woke the leaden grey
of cloud to brilliant display,
as mingled flame in flooding swell
above the waiting city lay

and on the banks of towers fell
to burn away the outer shell
and turn to spears of golden glare
the teeming hives where mortals dwell

and fierce and trembling shook the air
and stripped each lingering shadow bare
each moment stronger still it grew
with every heartbeat more aware

the colours clearer and more true
the old familiar world we knew
at once dissolved and lost in light
and of its radiance forged anew

So at the ending of the night
I woke from scattered dreams of fright
and to the window went to try
in furtive hope, this longed-for sight:

instead, the same cold dismal sky
unchanged and barren met my eye:
the falling raindrops mixed with snow
above the crowds that hurried by

But in pursuit of dazzling show
we in this darkened world below
deceived by gleam and glittering rays
fall blind to our own hidden glow

and dimly stumbling through our days
forget the light that would amaze
and kindle all the world to flame
if we allowed ourselves to blaze.

Thursday, December 20, 2012

December 20

A Lullaby For Solstice Evening

World gently slipping
Into its rest
Sun slowly dipping
From east to west
South's day abiding,
North's longest night,
Sharply dividing
Darkness and light:
Waxing moon beaming, stars gently gleaming,
Humankind, tell me, what is your dreaming?
Lullaby, o, lullaby!
Dream and dream till day is nigh.

Little world spinning
Round in your sleep
Dream of beginning
Time buried deep
Ash of Sol's burning
Meteor and flame
That set you turning
And spoke your name:
Earthquake and thunder, land rent asunder,
Nova and starlight watching in wonder:
Lullaby, o, lullaby!
Dream and dream till day is nigh.

Dream of lost ages
Wandering through space
Lava's fierce rages
Sea's warm embrace
Fertile green spilling
Onto the shore
Bright birdcall trilling,
Lizard's fierce roar;
Climbing and leaping, silent and creeping,
Life in its richness placed in your keeping:
Lullaby, o, lullaby!
Dream and dream till day is nigh.

Dream your new choices
As your race stands
Thought in your voices,
Flame in your hands;
See cities tower
Fields ripe with grain;
Desperate for power,
Yet moved by pain;
Youngest and yearning, eager and learning,
Could this be, then, the year of your turning?
Lullaby, o, lullaby!
Dream and dream till day is nigh.

Dream, too, of nightmare,
Grief unallayed
Fathomless fright where
All is betrayed,
Starfall and slaughter,
Vain your last flight,
Ruthless the water,
Endless your night;
Winning or losing, fate of your choosing,
Darkest despair but in your refusing:
Lullaby, o, lullaby!
Dream and dream till day is nigh.

Dream of dawn breaking
Days not yet known
When you come waking
Into your own
Wisdom and laughter
Love and rebirth
Long the years after
On the green earth
Old hatreds rending, new tales unending,
All recreated in the world's mending:
Dream, o dream, of rising sun.
Dream, o dream, of day begun.

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

December 19

In the bleak midwinter
Frosty wind made moan,
Earth stood hard as iron,
Water like a stone.
Snow had fallen, snow on snow,
Snow on snow,
In the bleak midwinter,
Long ago.

In the green midwinter
We know naught of frost;
Wind bears but warm weather,
Snow and ice long-lost.
Day on day still dripping
Falls the dismal rain,
Endless teardrops slipping
Down our windowpane.

Some still tell the stories
Of the winters bright:
Sparkling world of glories
And a sea of white
Horse-drawn sleighs came jingling
By the snowflakes brushed
Faces gently tingling
And the world all hushed.

Come our brown midsummer
Heatwaves shall return
Crops shall parch and wither
Tree and grassland burn
Leaf on dead leaf rasping
In the heavy haze
As we stumble, gasping
Through the shadeless days.

...Ah, but in our dreaming
We were there one night:
'Mid the jeweled trees gleaming
All the world turned white
Into soft drifts springing
Pinpricks on our face
Out our young arms flinging
Angels' wings to trace.

Snowballs soon were flying
Snowmen quickly rolled
Forts and armies vying
Laughing in the cold
Down the hillside sliding
To the crystal stream
There on swift skates gliding --
Must it be a dream?

You who knew the Earth white,
See the world you built;
Though you stole our birthright
Yet we bear your guilt.
Wistful in our fleeting
Childhood here below --
Christ Child, hear our pleading:
Bring us back the snow.

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

December 18

This time around there was no doubt;
The stars were watched, signs read aright,
And urgent messengers sent out
To find the new babe born that night.

Then, his precise location learned,
All of the earth's great leaders went
To see the Saviour who'd returned;
Both CEO and President,

Dictators, UN delegates,
Church clerics with their solemn prayers,
Fund managers and heads of states,
And all the Forbes list billionaires.

While to the east and west was beamed
The breaking news: "Christ born again!"
With updates and live footage streamed
To YouTube and to CNN;

Then -- the announcer's voice here broke --
Before the crib they humbly knelt
And, Teleprompted, smoothly spoke
In tones sincere and truly felt;

"O Child, both light and life you bring --
O Child, what would you have us do?
What gifts to give, what hymns to sing
To reverence and honor you?"

"O, bring to me no gems or gold,
But honor others in their need
And freely give the wealth you hold,
To vanquish now your ravening greed;

And sing no hymn, but rather hear
From all around the desperate cries;
Go forth to help both far and near
The multitudes that you despise;

No more exploit, but fairly pay
Each of the workers you employ
And let all children learn and play,
So each may know a life of joy.

And let the air be fresh and clean,
And let my creatures freely roam,
And turn your ravaged wastes to green
So all may share this world as home.

All conflict cease, all debts forgive;
Seek those you've scorned to make amends;
And from this day forth truly live
The precepts each of you pretends.

And speak no longer in my name
Nor put my image to misuse
For all your deeds of greatest shame
Have taken me as your excuse."

The simple words rang clear and stark;
Applause was heard worldwide -- but lo!
The faces of the kings grew dark
And all their tone was one of woe.

The angry mutters filled the room:
"Such sacrifice, such rapid change...
It's quite a lot that you presume.
What do you offer in exchange?

Indeed, an infant still (though crowned
By some quirk of astronomy) --
How could you know such things are bound
To wreck the world economy?"

"My Father's world so bright and fair
Was made not for your kind alone
But for my creatures everywhere;
How dare you claim it as your own?

How dare with casual cruelty take
My Father's gift of human life
And buy and barter it to make
A pawn in all your scheming strife?

Now, through the time of your own birth,
I offer you this chance unique:
Together make this fragile Earth
The longed-for paradise all seek.

Who heeds the warning that I bring?
Who comes in answer to my call?
For if you seek to be a king,
A servant you must be to all."

The seven billions rejoiced;
The lords all tore their clothes and wept
And ominous predictions voiced
As, innocent, the Christ Child slept,

And looking on without a word
The cleric who had found the place;
Head humbly bowed at what he'd heard,
A thoughtful smile upon his face.

The servers crashed, the press phones rang,
Stocks slumped, and Tweets flew thick and fast,
While in the streets the flash mobs sang
The ancient fallen age had passed;

And as the new dawn brilliant broke --
The cheers rose high, the chimes rang wild --
In slipped the one who never spoke
And silent slew the sleeping child.