Counting Days

I can’t remember a year when I didn’t have an advent calendar.

For most of my life, these tangible countdowns to Christmas were simple affairs: a pretty, seasonal picture (sometimes religious, sometimes not) with perforated doors, one for each day. You wuld fold open the flap, and inside would be another picture, an inset of the greater image, perhaps, or an enhancement. One of my favorite calendars had an image of a Christmas tree in a Victorian bay window, and every door added an ornament.

It wasn’t until I was in college that I learned about advent calendars with ‘stuff’ in them. Now, usually this ‘stuff’ consists of cheap, waxy milk chocolate, but apparently there are some that come with toys, as well. When I learned about them, I spent five minutes feeling gypped, and then I realized I liked the old-school version where the only treasure hidden behind the open door was my own imagination, sparked by the ever-dwindling number of days until the Big Event.

Of course, we count days throughout the year, not just during advent, not just in December.

We make red Sharpie x’s across the calendar squares that march us toward the next deadline, the next paycheck, the next special occasion, the next vacation.
We open our own doors and windows, and we find whatever life offers, and some days it’s as precious as a baby in a bed of straw, and other days it’s the manure from the ox in the corner, but we keep on counting.

Counting up: I’m five, ten, sixteen, twenty-one, thirty, forty-five.
Counting down: Christmas, the new year, Valentine’s Day, tax day, another birthday.

I read about my friends who have advent calendars with pockets that hold treats for their children, and I’m wistful for the days when I was innocent enough to believe marking a day on a calendar, picking a toy out of a pocket, burning the candle down to the next mark, held some kind of special magic.

And maybe, just maybe, they did.

And maybe, just maybe, recent years have led me toward virtual Advent calendars like #musicadvent, or Holidailies, or even the collection of poetry my friend Jancis is doing on his tumblr account because that’s the grown-up way of opening a door and finding a prize to help you count the days.

Holidailies 2015

Poem: Monday, 4:05 PM

The reflection of the sun on the water
Is sending ghostly ripples of light
Across my windowpane,
As if I’m being visited by the visual echo of wind,
Or an aurora borealis known only to me.

A cursory glance at the pool
Shows no waves,
No movement at all from the water,
And the trees are not blowing with vigor,
But breathing gentle sighs
As their branches lift and fall
In arboreal shrugs.

In a few minutes,
The sun will sink behind the treeline.
The water will be cool and dead-looking
Instead of sunlit and alive,
And the essence of wind drawn in light
Will be gone from my view.

For now, though,
I’m content to sit here
And watch the wavy lines
Sketch temporary patterns on the glass.

It should be painfully obvious from this piece why I rarely attempt poetry. This is posted unedited, as I originally wrote it on 24 November 2008

Valentine…

valentine coffee

Happy Valentine’s Day. Several years ago, when I discovered this poem, it instantly became my favorite love poem EVER. For many years I posted it in my blog on Valentine’s Day. Last year, I posted a poem by Harold Pinter, instead.

As I write this, my Valentine is away on a business trip, so I won’t see him til tomorrow morning. Still, it seems appropriate to post this rather…earthy…celebration of love.

May this day be full of love and light no matter the status of your relationship.

Valentine
The things about you I appreciate
May seem indelicate:
I’d like to find you in the shower
And chase the soap for half an hour.
I’d like to have you in my power
And see your eyes dilate.
I’d like to have your back to scour
And other parts to lubricate.
Sometimes I feel it is my fate
To chase you screaming up a tower
Or make you cower
By asking you to differentiate
Nietzsche from Schopenhauer.
I’d like successfully to guess your weight
And win you at a fête.
I’d like to offer you a flower.

I like the hair upon your shoulders,
Falling like water over boulders.
I like the shoulders too: they are essential.
Your collar-bones have great potential
(I’d like your particulars in folders
Marked Confidential).

I like your cheeks, I like your nose,
I like the way your lips disclose
The neat arrangement of your teeth
(Half above and half beneath)
In rows.

I like your eyes, I like their fringes.
The way they focus on me gives me twinges.
Your upper arms drive me berserk.
I like the way your elbows work.
On hinges …

I like your wrists, I like your glands,
I like the fingers on your hands.
I’d like to teach them how to count,
And certain things we might exchange,
Something familiar for something strange.
I’d like to give you just the right amount
And get some change.

I like it when you tilt your cheek up.
I like the way you not and hold a teacup.
I like your legs when you unwind them.
Even in trousers I don’t mind them.
I like each softly-moulded kneecap.

I like the little crease behind them.
I’d always know, without a recap,
Where to find them.

I like the sculpture of your ears.
I like the way your profile disappears
Whenever you decide to turn and face me.
I’d like to cross two hemispheres
And have you chase me.
I’d like to smuggle you across frontiers
Or sail with you at night into Tangiers.
I’d like you to embrace me.

I’d like to see you ironing your skirt
And cancelling other dates.
I’d like to button up your shirt.
I like the way your chest inflates.
I’d like to soothe you when you’re hurt
Or frightened senseless by invertebrates.

I’d like you even if you were malign
And had a yen for sudden homicide.
I’d let you put insecticide
Into my wine.
I’d even like you if you were Bride
Of Frankenstein
Or something ghoulish out of Mamoulian’s
Jekyll and Hyde.
I’d even like you as my Julian
Or Norwich or Cathleen ni Houlihan.
How melodramatic
If you were something muttering in attics
Like Mrs Rochester or a student of Boolean
Mathematics.

You are the end of self-abuse.
You are the eternal feminine.
I’d like to find a good excuse
To call on you and find you in.
I’d like to put my hand beneath your chin,
And see you grin.
I’d like to taste your Charlotte Russe,
I’d like to feel my lips upon your skin
I’d like to make you reproduce.

I’d like you in my confidence.
I’d like to be your second look.
I’d like to let you try the French Defence
And mate you with my rook.
I’d like to be your preference
And hence
I’d like to be around when you unhook.
I’d like to be your only audience,
The final name in your appointment book,
Your future tense.

~John Fuller

Image credit: byheaven / 123RF Stock Photo

Got Verse?

Vintage Typewriter

Vintage Typewriter | Credit: MorgueFile.com | Click to embiggen

From my Sunday Brunch column at All Things Girl:

April is National Poetry Month, at least in the USA, and the eighteenth is the day we’re supposed to acknowledge the poems we carry in our pockets. Most of my clothes don’t even have pockets, and the only poetry I write is not for public consumption, but I’ve loved poetry since I was young enough to embrace A.A. Milne (he wrote SO much more than just Winnie the Pooh) and eschew Dr. Seuss (sorry but his silly sing-song-y stuff does nothing for me), so I thought I’d chat about that today.

Click to read the rest of Nostalgic Verses (Or Marmalade, Shadows, Silverstein, and Shakespeare)

Christmas Eve (Part II: A Tale of Two Churches Redux)

I don’t write about religion or faith all that often. I write about specific things encountered in various churches, and of people associated with them, but I’m hesitant to share my own beliefs here for various reasons. I should preface this huge block of text with the following: It’s a ramble. It’s not well thought out. It’s a collection of thoughts that are bubbling out, and that are valid for me RIGHT NOW, but that doesn’t mean they’ll be equally valid for me next year or even next week.

First, I admit that I am not the best informed when it comes to such thing. My family roots are Italian and Catholic, but my mother had left Catholicism behind by the time I was born, and while I vaguely recall being taken to Easter or Christmas services, and a couple of funerals, when I was a small child, we never did much with church or religion. My mother, instead, taught me by example, to fight for causes I thought were just, to make my own decisions about what I believed. In a way, I grew up without religion, and while this means there are certain cultural references that are not part of my being, it also means that there isn’t any particular dogma that is the be-all and end-all of faith to me. We attended the UU Church in Modesto when my mother and stepfather were first married. I thought the services were interesting, mostly, but resented anything that was a requirement, and had little use for what passed for a religious education program. At twelve, I was so accustomed to being the only child in any gathering, that to be sent to the same class as children significantly younger than I was annoyed me. As well, I wasn’t being taught anything about the history of Unitarian-Universalism, the roots or the meaning of the faith. Was I surrounded by an amazing group of people? Yes. Did they have a clue how to present things to precocious children? No.

Second, my opinions and beliefs are not static, and I’m still learning. I think we’re all still learning. There are elements of Unitarian-Universalism that I love, and elements of Episcopalian/Anglican culture that I love equally. I like the music of the Catholic mass, but have little patience for the politics of that faith. I have a problem with inclusive language, not because I don’t want it to be inclusive – I DO – but because the beauty of poetry, the cadence of phrases, the alliteration, meter, and tone of some really beautiful writing is diminished by trying to make it fit modern sensibilities. I have no issue with writing new pieces using modern language, and inclusive terminology, but the poetic part of my soul, the artistic part of my being, is sometimes offended by the butchery committed on hymns and psalms.

On Christmas Eve, we (Fuzzy and I), participated in two vastly different celebrations of the season. One was the Unitarian-Universalist Christmas Eve service at UUCOC, which was satisfying socially, spiritually, culturally, and artistically, even if I did stumble over the funky words to familiar carols; the other was midnight mass at the local convent. You can’t get much more diametrically opposed than those two experiences.

The UU service involved choral singing, in which people thoroughly enjoyed (or gave the appearance of it) the music. There were readings that reflected personal views on faith and morality (though morality isn’t really the right word – ethics, maybe?), some original, some literary. The homily (in two parts) was both personal and provocative (in the dictionary definition: to cause thought, not in the modern definition: racy and risque). There was a burning bowl, in which we had the opportunity to cast off something negative and ask the universe for something positive, without having to reveal those intimacies to other people. There was gingerbread and wassail for communion – communion of the truest form, rooted in community, in friendship, in joy. There was casual conversation, and no one glowered over offerings of Merry Christmas or Happy Holidays or any other Seasonal Greeting du Jour, instead taking everything in the spirit it was offered.

The mass, on the other hand, left me with a feeling of discord. It wasn’t that the service wasn’t lovely – in it’s way, it was. The service we attended was at a local monastery, a home for discalced Carmelite nuns. The sanctuary was built of brick and pink quartzite stone, and felt bright and airy, even at 11:30 at night. The voices of the Sisters, singing carols from behind their grille, were beautiful even though they were terribly pitchy. There’s something about simple song, sung with love, that makes even the worst voice lovely. The greens were modest, but managed to convey reverence for life, and for the season…but…

– But the service used modern forms of language, and I really like the King James Bible. I like that it uses the word forms shared by Shakespeare. I love the poetry of the antique constructs.
– But it was a solemn Eucharist, and I’m accustomed to joyous ones, even at midnight. I wanted the incense, the scent of actual frankincense and myrrh, the bells and pageantry, because the Mystery of High Mass is built for Story, and Drama. Without those trappings, the ritual loses some of its appeal for me.
– But the congregation didn’t sing, either because they were afraid, or because they were too serious, and worship without song feels wrong to me, no matter who or what one is worshiping.
– It is, evidently, possible to make “Joy to the World” into a dirge. A solemn take on what is generally an ebullient song left me feeling incomplete and unsettled.

(On a purely administrative note: I’m spoiled by the tradition that is shared by many UU congregations and Episcopalian congregations alike, of providing a complete order of service that guides you through everything from start to finish, rather than a missal that is divided by date, with the unchanging parts of a service separate from the parts that are time-sensitive. Newcomers and visitors – including myself – are easily confused by the flipping back and forth).

Am I sorry I went to the convent? No. I enjoyed the experience, and the glimpse of cloistered life, and I got to spend part of Christmas Eve with a woman who has become a dear friend. But next year, I’m definitely going to do midnight services with the Episcopalians, instead. If we do it at all. I may not need it – as I said, the UU celebration was satisfying on almost every level.

The thing is – I like the Eucharistic communion as well. I don’t have a problem with viewing God as a trinity or a single entity. (I prefer holy “ghost” to holy “spirit” but that’s another entry entirely). I pick and choose the elements of various religions that appeal to me, and I choose to interpret this is my body/this is my blood as “partake in that which is the essence of life, and the building blocks of humanity, and be in communion with the people and beings who share your existence.” Midnight mass, for me, isn’t so much worshiping Christ as it is a celebration of all Creation. We begin in darkness, we end in darkness, and if we’re very lucky, we get to experience the light during our journey from one to the other.

(As an aside, the King James version of those lines, with the “Take, eat,” cadence reminds me very strongly of Bubbie, and the literary part of my soul finds delight in the strong Jewish voice behind those Christian words.)

This poem is made of win.

My friend Jeremy posted this in his LiveJournal earlier this evening. I loved the poem so much, I had to post it here in my own blog, as well:

Pronunciation Poem

I take it you already know
of tough and bough and cough and dough?
Others may stumble, but not you,
on hiccough, thorough, laugh and through.
Well done! And now you wish, perhaps,
to learn of less familiar traps?

Beware of heard, a dreadful word,
that looks like beard and sounds like bird.
And dead — it’s said like bed not bead —
and for goodness’ sake don’t call it deed!
Watch out for meat and great and threat
(They rhyme with suite and straight and debt)

A moth is not the moth in mother,
nor both in bother, broth in brother.
And here is not a match for there,
nor dear and fear for bear and pear.
And then there’s dose and rose and lose —
just look them up — and goose and choose,
and cork and work and card and ward,
and font and front and word and sword,
and do and go and thwart and cart —
come, come I’ve hardly made a start.
A dreadful language? Man alive.
I’d mastered it when I was five.

— author unknown