Stars and Stories

Blue Christmas

We spent last weekend enshrouded in ice that glittered like stars in the soft illumination of the porch light. We ate soup and played board games, and remembered what it was like when winter was a full season and change, instead of an isolated weekend here and there.

Yesterday, I was involved in a friend’s Facebook conversation about the perceived and actual ethnicities of Santa Claus and Jesus, and ever since then Margaret Gooding’s poem “Why Not a Star,” which I first encountered in the UU hymnal, has been running through my head:

Why Not a Star
They told me that when Jesus was born a star appeared in the heavens above the place where the young child lay.

When I was very young I had no trouble believing wondrous things; I believed in the star.

It was a wonderful miracle, part of a long ago story, foretelling an uncommon life.

They told me a super nova appeared in the heavens in its dying burst of fire.

When I was older and believed in science and reason I believed the story of the star explained.

But I found that I was unwilling to give up the star, fitting symbol for the birth of one whose uncommon life has been long remembered.

The star explained became the star understood, for Jesus, for Buddha, for Zarathustra.

Why not a star? Some bright star shines somewhere in the heavens each time a child is born.

Who knows what it may foretell?

Who knows what uncommon life may yet again unfold, if we but give it a chance?

When I went looking for the text to that poem, I found the LiveJournal page of one John Heaton, a man whose writing I used to follow when he used to be a fellow participant in Holidailies. His post today was another poem. It’s by Naomi Shihab Nye:

How Palestinians Keep Warm

Choose one word and say it over
and over, till it builds a fire inside your mouth.
Adhafera, the one who holds out, Alphard, solitary one,
the stars were named by people like us.
Each night they line up on the long path between worlds.
They nod and blink, no right or wrong
in their yellow eyes. Dirah, little house,
unfold your walls and take us in.

My well went dry, my grandfather’s grapes
have stopped singing. I stir the coals,
my babies cry. How will I teach them
they belong to the stars?
They build forts of white stone and say, “This is mine.”
How will I teach them to love Mizar, veil, cloak,
to know that behind it an ancient man
is fanning a flame?
He stirs the dark wind of our breath.
He says the veil will rise
till they see us shining, spreading like embers
on the blessed hills.

Well, I made that up. I’m not so sure about Mizar.
But I know we need to keep warm here on earth
And when your shawl is as thin as mine is, you tell stories.

That last line, especially, really resonated with me: And when your shawl is as thin as mine is, you tell stories., but it’s just one more strand that’s been plucked, one more string that is vibrating in my life. Another came the other night when I was watching the HBO documentary Six by Sondheim. Talking about his process, he said that when he was writing, he was acting, that he played all the parts in his head as he figured out their songs.

Sometimes I feel like I’m playing all the parts in my head, too, and other times I feel like I’ve stepped sideways, outside of the flow of time, and am just an observer, meant to remember everything and then use it in a piece of writing, or an improv character.

Another note, bowed, legato is Madeleine L’Engle’s assertion that the Judeo-Christian God is made of/from/by stories.

And so I sit here, and I read these poems. I get up, I pad, barefoot, through the house, and I stand at the back door and gaze up at the moon, smile at the stars. I let the chilly night air caress my face, and tickle my toes, and then I step backwards and slide the door shut.

We think we are made of flesh and blood and bone, and maybe we are, but we’re more, too.

We are stories and songs.
We are the stuff of stars.