{december lights: small & pinned down}

Oakland Museum of California 114

From A Pilgrim at Tinker Creek, by Annie Dillard: “Thomas Merton wrote, “there is always a temptation to diddle around in the contemplative life, making itsy-bitsy statues.” There is always an enormous temptation in all of life to diddle around making itsy-bitsy friends and meals and journeys for itsy-bitsy years on end. It is so self-conscious, so apparently moral, simply to step aside from the gaps where the creeks and winds pour down, saying, I never merited this grace, quite rightly, and then to sulk along the rest of your days on the edge of rage.

I won’t have it. The world is wilder than that in all directions, more dangerous and bitter, more extravagant and bright. We are making hay when we should be making whoopee; we are raising tomatoes when we should be raising Cain, or Lazarus.

Go up into the gaps. If you can find them; they shift and vanish too. Stalk the gaps. Squeak into a gap in the soil, turn, and unlock-more than a maple- a universe. This is how you spend this afternoon, and tomorrow morning, and tomorrow afternoon. Spend the afternoon. You can’t take it with you.”

May you live all the days of your life.
Arise. Shine.

{december lights: pf – in memoriam}

Oh, Tennyson, how I loathed you in college. Through no fault of your own, of course. You did write such beauty, but when one is helping a desperately overbooked loved one finish a massive seventy-five page paper (probably was only thirty pages, but it felt like seventy-five. TRUST ME.) for ALL the final grades in an independent study project that has gone on three months too long and has switched professors twice because the first gave the assignment and then had a breakdown, and the second professor told you your interpretation of the first project was all wrong when it was already almost done, and sent you away with a new assignment which was nothing at ALL like the first and gave even less oversight than the first professor — well. It is far too easy, then, to resent you, poor Tennyson, and your massive work IN MEMORIAM.

And yet, there is such loveliness within.

Because of yesterday’s reminiscing on my days in the vast green of Glasgow (Glas cu, the city’s name in the proto-Brythonic language indeed means a green hollow) I’m still thinking on their coat of arms, and bells. Tennyson’s Ring Out is often resurrected around the new year, so I’ll indulge myself with a bit of it today.

Dunkeld Cathedral 40

In Memoriam, [Ring out, wild bells]

Alfred Lord Tennyson, 1809 – 1892

Ring out, wild bells, to the wild sky,
The flying cloud, the frosty light:
The year is dying in the night;
Ring out, wild bells, and let him die.

Ring out the want, the care, the sin,
The faithless coldness of the times;
Ring out, ring out my mournful rhymes
But ring the fuller minstrel in.

Ring out false pride in place and blood,
The civic slander and the spite;
Ring in the love of truth and right,
Ring in the common love of good.

Ring out old shapes of foul disease;
Ring out the narrowing lust of gold;
Ring out the thousand wars of old,
Ring in the thousand years of peace.

Dunkeld Cathedral 57

(To the left, the bell tower of Dunkeld Cathedral, Scotland, which has a tiny, scary spiral staircase to get up to it.) Poetry Friday hosted today at Random Noodling. Arise and ring.

{december lights: growling, fainting, rusting, sighing}

Glasgow City Halls 08

The City of Glasgow has an intriguing coat of arms – which features a bell, a bird, a fish, and a tree, elements of four stories told about the city’s 6th century patron, St. Mungo (or known to some as St. Kentigern). The City motto, indeed, is There’s the tree that never grew, There’s the bird that never flew, There’s the fish that never swam, There’s the bell that never rang, (Clearly, in ancient Scotland, ‘swam’ and ‘rang’ rhymed. Or not), telling of St. Mungo’s miracles in Glasgow. If you want to know the legend of St. Mungo, you can find them, for myself; my chief amusement was finding variations on the coat of arms, and its symbols etched into public buildings and included in art glass. I found this bit of poem outside City Halls, the lovely, high-ceilinged 1841 concert venue where the BBC Scottish Symphony plays.

Praise for the tree that growled but grew

Praise for the bird that fainted but flew

Praise for the bell that rusted but rang

Praise for the fish that sighed but swam

Growling or sighing. Fainting. Rusting. This is how we go, these days. We are tired. The winter holidays are wearing. We would all like a nap right now, please and thank you. Even if we’re not quite Bah, humbug, it’s easy to get trapped in feeling like we must smile and give and give and give this season.

We want to sleep, but – we birds must fly. We trees ought to grow, we fish have to swim. We need your song, bells, while it is dark. Soon, the Light is coming. Arise and shine.

{december lights: burn it as fuel, for light and warmth}

From the fantabulous Lev Grossman’s speculative fiction novel for adults, THE MAGICIANS:

Lynedoch Crescent D 140

“I have a little theory that I’d like to air here, if I may. What is it that you think makes you magicians?”

More silence. Fogg was well into rhetorical-question territory now anyway. He spoke more softly. “Is it because you are intelligent? Is it because you are brave and good? Is is because you’re special?

Maybe. Who knows. But I’ll tell you something: I think you’re magicians because you’re unhappy. A magician is strong because he feels pain. He feels the difference between what the world is and what he would make of it. Or what did you think that stuff in your chest was? A magician is strong because he hurts more than others. His wound is his strength.

Most people carry that pain around inside them their whole lives, until they kill the pain by other means, or until it kills them. But you, my friends, you found another way: a way to use the pain. To burn it as fuel, for light and warmth. You have learned to break the world that has tried to break you.”

Burn it all down. Then, arise and shine.

{december lights: the dove is never free}

I didn’t grow up with Leonard Cohen songs, but poetry friends have been urging an acquaintance upon me for some time. His “Anthem” from the 1992 album The Future has words that reverberate today.

Ring the bells that still can ring
Forget your perfect offering
There is a crack, a crack in everything
That’s how the light gets in
That’s how the light gets in
That’s how the light gets in.

If you’re cracked, damaged, imperfect? Arise and shine. That’s how the Light gets in.

{december lights: citron}

Buddha's Hand Fruit 4

citrus deities

fragrant hand blesses
wafting godlike essences
breathe, breath of heaven

Fruitcake with plain dried fruit and fresh spices and no weirdly colored cherries (or whatever those green things are) is actually quite tasty. If you’ve never used a citron medica var or fingered citron or Buddha’s hand in cooking before, you owe it to yourself to try. Wait for a day when you have a few extra pence lying about, and splurge. It smells glorious, and tastes like… well, lemon peel with essence of lemon blossoms.

We left slices of this lovely fruit in our sugar bowl, and in the kitchen, and now our tea tastes magical, and the whole downstairs smells of flowers. May light infuse and suffuse your being in just this same way.