In With the New

Weather and other conditions being favorable, my New Year’s ritual is a solitary walk on our snow-covered pasture—a small pasture, a leisurely walk. If the day should be a cloudless one, bright and cold, all the better. The first day of the year is a door, a gateway, the invisible border of an uncharted country.

Something in me loves the demarcation of a beginning: the blank pages of a new notebook, the desk calendar before it is covered with appointment times—and this pasture with its cleanly sculpted snow banks, the evergreens casting their blue shadows across the snow.

Come closer, my dear. There are rabbit tracks everywhere. I used to see this crisscross of tracks and imagine the rabbits playing tag with each other by the light of the moon. Older now, I think of each creature urgently searching out the next bit of food. In either case, the rabbits’ tracks and the delicate penciled tracks of birds announce to me that I am not the first to explore the uncharted country of a new year. Thus a cherished solitude gives way to a companionable and shared silence, which is, after all, the deepest kind.

Poet Marilyn Dorf allows her readers to share in such a silence:

Midnight. Snow.
And nothing but a rabbit
runs the white and rutted road.

The way a dream escapes at night
and scampers crazily along
the fluted chambers

of a mind gone soft with sleep.

The reader “gets” the emptiness of the landscape with only a barely few details, “gets,” too, the aloneness of the rabbit on what has become its road. The reader is invited into an experience. Although I am surprised to come upon fluted chambers, there’s the sudden pleasure of recognition. Yes, dreaming is like this. I know.

This journal, which cannot yet claim a full year of existence—it began in late January, 2012—is likely full of musing and muttering. It makes no announcements or proclamations. Think of these writings as so many rabbit tracks across the fields you walk and the country you explore in the coming year. We will be companions, then.

“Night Flight,” Marilyn Dorf, Nebraska Poets Calendar, Black Star Press, 2012.  Quoted with permission of the author.

There Is No Peace On Earth, I Said

Call it allusion upon allusion, the line that goes through my mind these days. I make it the title of this piece knowing that you will recognize it from the carol, “I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day.” Further, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow counted on his readers’ familiarity with Peace on earth, goodwill towards men, the angel’s announcement to the shepherds in Luke’s telling of the Christmas story.

This year a friend sent me the little-known story behind Longfellow’s poem, later set to music. Longfellow’s beloved wife Fannie had died from injuries sustained in a house fire. Longfellow himself recovered from his burns, although he never regained the full use of his arms. And he went through searing grief.

His phrase I heard the bells, therefore, means he heard them, finally, again.

Earlier this month and long before the killing of the innocents in Newtown, I wrote a joyful three-line poem for the parents of a one-month-old baby. Eddy’s father is a pastor, and Eddy, I am sure, is the present darling of that congregation.

It was not that I set out to write it, the way one might decide to write a poem for a special occasion. Instead, it began with saying his name aloud. How well it seems to go together: Eddy McArdle. In this tiny poem, moreover, the first word jumped up and said it should be the title. (You realize, of course, that the work of a poet is mostly play; this must be why there is hardly any money in it.)

We are now, however, in a different place. There is no peace on earth, I said is this season’s bitterly-felt lament. During the all-faiths service replayed on our television stations last Sunday night, my husband and I stayed up to hear the Rabbi’s sung Kaddish. I did not need to understand Hebrew. I closed my eyes and allowed the yearning melody to carry my prayers for which there were no words.

The next time I happen to see my friends’ child, he will be heartbreakingly beautiful to me. All children are, and early December seems ages ago.

Still, think of Mary the mother during the flight into Egypt, having heard the horrifying news about all boy-babies under the age of two, whose families lived in Bethlehem. Surely she held her baby ever more closely not only from fear but from sadness and bewilderment. And think of the angel in that gospel story, think of Heaven itself, knowing our sorrows—and creating among us peace and goodwill. Not mere words, not nice wishes. But peace and love, yes, and joy again.


was a Thursday in early December
when I held that wee babe Eddy McArdle
in my arms for as long as I wished.