"A Cradle Song" // A Poem for Christmastime

by William Blake

Sweet dreams for a shade,
O'er my lovely infants head.
Sweet dreams of pleasant streams,
By happy silent moony beams

Sweet sleep with soft down,
Weave thy brows an infant crown. 
Sweet sleep Angel mild,
Hover o'er my happy child.

Sweet smiles in the night,
Hover over my delight. 
Sweet smiles Mothers smiles
All the livelong night beguiles.

Sweet moans, dovelike sighs,
Chase not slumber from thy eyes,
Sweet moans, sweeter smiles,
All the dovelike moans beguiles.

Sleep sleep happy child.
All creation slept and smiled.
Sleep sleep, happy sleep,
While o'er thee thy mother weep

Sweet baby in thy face,
Holy image I can trace.
Sweet babe once like these, 
Thy maker lay and wept for me

Wept

Wept for me for thee for all,
When he was an infant small.
Thou his image ever see.
Heavenly face that smiles on thee. 

Smiles on thee on me on all,
Who became an infant small,
Infant smiles are his own smiles,
Heaven & earth to peace beguiles.

In this season it is good to slow and stop and hear the words "miracle" and "incarnation" and (sure, go for it) "hypostatic union." It is good at Christmas to mull over the mystery of God in human flesh and why not use all the big words we've got?
But then it is also good to hear the eighteenth-century Blake speak in the simplest words of the most magnificent mystery: God the "maker" has become a crying babe, and "Infant smiles are his own smiles"!

Craziness All Together.

The house is full
of craziness all spread out.

Crazy Dad is in the garage,
drinking Southern Comfort
from a plastic cup and deriving,
I think, very little comfort,
except for the Santa hat he's wearing,
which makes him feel like a comedian,
which makes him feel funny and attractive,
which makes him feel happy.

Crazy Sister is in the TV room
with the TV blaring. She's talking loudly to Crazy Aunt
and is using her public voice and her public face
which scrunches up and laughs at what is not funny
and which is perfectly painted
with brown eyebrows and very red Cupid's bow lips.
Her son toddles around the coffee table
and Sister unconsciously grabs for him before he falls
onto the dirty rug.

Crazy Stepmom is in the very white kitchen.
Her blue eyes are lit up like illuminated tree ornaments,
her face plastered with surprise,
even though she's not surprised. That's actually her
"I'm having fun" face. She chats with her sister
and cackles at the stories about dogs and traffic cops.
She's wearing a beret and eating rum balls.
A little sugar sticks to her lipstick. Now her mouth
is an ornament too.

Crazy Cousin is wearing a lot of clothes
because he's very thin, but his headphones are thick
and they're pumping high-decibal trance music
into his ears. He sits on the living room step,
playing with his DJ equipment and thinking about
his cats back home in Boise.

Crazy Brother and Crazy Uncle and
Crazy Other Assorted Relatives are all milling about
the house doing mostly separate activities.
It's Christmas Day, but no one seems to notice.
Green olives and cheddar cheese and mixed drinks
sit for hours on the kitchen table,
all together.

I'm breaking my own rule and posting this, a poem that I authored. Don't tell anyone; I'm afraid it will look narcissistic.

To Jesus on His Birthday

by Edna St. Vincent Millay

For this your mother sweated in the cold,
For this you bled upon the bitter tree:
A yard of tinsel ribbon bought and sold;
A paper wreath; a day at home for me.
The merry bells ring out, the people kneel;
Up goes the man of God before the crowd;
With voice of honey and with eyes of steel
He drones your humble gospel to the proud.
Nobody listens. Less than the wind that blows
Are all your words to us you died to save.
O Prince of Peace! O Sharon's dewy Rose!
How mute you lie within your vaulted grave.
The stone the angel rolled away with tears
Is back upon your mouth these thousand years.

Words absolutely cannot express how much I love this poem. The stunning imagery, the meter and rhyme, and the absolute ring of truthfulness about it. This is a mournful sonnet. A beautiful, mournful sonnet to Jesus on his birthday.

Advent

by Mary Jo Salter

Wind whistling, as it does
in winter, and I think
nothing of it until

it snaps a shutter off
her bedroom window, spins
it over the roof and down

to crash on the deck in back,
like something out of Oz.
We look up, stunned—then glad

to be safe and have a story,
characters in a fable
we only half-believe.

Look, in my surprise
I somehow split a wall,
the last one in the house

we’re making of gingerbread.
We’ll have to improvise:
prop the two halves forward

like an open double door
and with a tube of icing
cement them to the floor.

Five days until Christmas,
and the house cannot be closed.
When she peers into the cold

interior we’ve exposed,
she half-expects to find
three magi in the manger,

a mother and her child.
She half-expects to read
on tablets of gingerbread

a line or two of Scripture,
as she has every morning
inside a dated shutter

on her Advent calendar.
She takes it from the mantel
and coaxes one fingertip

under the perforation,
as if her future hinges
on not tearing off the flap

under which a thumbnail picture
by Raphael or Giorgione,
Hans Memling or David

of apses, niches, archways,
cradles a smaller scene
of a mother and her child,

of the lidded jewel-box
of Mary’s downcast eyes.
Flee into Egypt, cries

the angel of the Lord
to Joseph in a dream,
for Herod will seek the young

child to destroy him. While
she works to tile the roof
with shingled peppermints,

I wash my sugared hands
and step out to the deck
to lug the shutter in,

a page tom from a book
still blank for the two of us,
a mother and her child.



Mary Jo Salter, “Advent” from Open Shutters (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2003). Copyright © 2003 by Mary Jo Salter.