The Bard of Christmas Past

Introduction

It seems as I get older I find it harder and harder to get into the spirit of the Christmas season. Not the socializing, well-wishing part of it, but the perennial quandary over gift-giving and the continuous commercial pressure we’re subjected to—earlier and earlier each year, it feels like. On the stroke of December 1st this year, the Christmas advertising machine began in earnest. The rebel part of me has had an instinctive urge to kick against coercion of any kind for as long as I can remember.

Slocan Lake from New Denver shore in winter. Photo Sean Arthur Joyce

Almost all of my gifts are sourced locally, and if possible, hand-made by local artisans. That way I’m supporting people I know in the community and helping them make a living, which can often be challenging in the Kootenays. Wal-mart or any of the other big corporate stores will get next to none of my Christmas gift shopping dollars. Often through the years—thanks to a family tradition I learned—I’ve made my own Christmas cards, offering them as one-of-a-kind, limited edition tokens of goodwill to friends and family. So in that sense I’m hardly becoming Scrooge, Dickens’ caricature of penny-pinching meanness of spirit.

Often each year I wait until Silverton’s annual Christmas by the Lake event (http://www.christmasbythelake.ca/) before shopping for gifts in stores. It’s the ideal place to find a wide range of artisan-made crafts of all kinds: pottery, jewelry, fabric art, toys—you name it. The overall quality is high to excellent and testimony to the many skilled artisans we have in the West Kootenay. On top of that there’s the quaint ‘village’ of huts on the Silverton Gallery/Museum grounds, with chestnuts roasted on open fires just like the Christmas carol, ice slides created by award-winning ice carver Peter Vogelaar for the delight of the kids, glüwein (hot mulled wine) for adults, live wood carving, and a generally festive, happy atmosphere. Thanks to the vagaries of global climate change, often there isn’t much snow to christen the event, but thankfully the organizers have done such a great job of setting up the festive mood that this barely registers.

Carpenter Creek in winter. Photo Sean Arthur Joyce

Last year at this time I didn’t have my blog set up so I’ll make up for lost time by posting some original poems and stories on the Christmas theme. Naturally I can’t hope to compete with the old classics but since those are readily available elsewhere on the Internet, I’ll stick to my own writing here.

Still, I urge readers to take some time over the holiday season to re-acquaint themselves with the tradition not only of great stories but great poetry—the Bard of Christmas Past. Probably my all-time favourite is A Child’s Christmas in Wales by Dylan Thomas. “All the Christmases roll down toward the two-tongued sea, like a cold and headlong moon bundling down the sky that was our street…” I had the privilege to be part of a large ensemble cast production of this at the Bosun Hall in New Denver about two years ago, directed by Judith Ceroli, who also produced this year’s ‘radio play’ production of It’s A Wonderful Life.

For my own contribution to The Bard of Christmas Past, I offer Christmas Prayer and A Christmas Epiphany, each written many years ago now. (The former about 1999, the latter 2002.) In a sense these two poems complement one another like the two sides of a coin, the yin and yang of the season. Christmas Prayer aims at the big issues we need to remember at this time of year—that we still have a long way to go before most inhabitants of Earth can enjoy the comforts of the season; while A Christmas Epiphany is a more sensual, personal fantasy (written during my single years). Enjoy!

Christmas Prayer

Sean Arthur Joyce

This winter we will all learn to pray.

It’s time. We’ve used up

our false graces like poker chips

in a bad losing streak.

When the coldest night of the year

hangs in a snarl

from the eaves, the wind

will be pacing from tree to tree,

Trying to come to some decision

about our future

on this watergreen jewel

in God’s gift box.

So pray—pray for the laugher

in a newborn’s voice,

the healing sorrow of remorse,

hand-to-hand contact of love.

Pray for the penguin

holding the brittle shell

of his future

on a melting Antarctic shelf.

Pray for the caribou,

proud shadow retreating

up the mountainside

into the cheap jingle of silver.

Pray for the Bangladeshi mother

watching the rain gods

drown her rice field

one mouthful at a time.

So out! Crawl out

of the burrowholes for eyes

we live through

in our snowman cities—

Be dazzled by the archangel glare

burning inside every one of us

and constantly dabbling

in shadow.

And turn—turn to the person

beside you—mother, father,

brother, sister, lover—hell, even

stranger—and let them be

The one most dear to you

in the universe

for one unblinking moment

before the heavy eyelid closes.

©2002

A Christmas Epiphany

Sean Arthur Joyce

She is just the right height—tall enough

to be larger than life—short enough

to lift to her tiptoes when we kiss.

Her lips taste of Mandarin oranges—

tongue slick as eggnog, hint of cinnamon stick,

the intoxicating promise of rum in her mouth

understated just enough

to keep me coming back for more.

She speaks in riddles tied up in gold ribbons—

Untie this! she says, with a wink.

No problem, I answer, feeding her praise

smooth as marachino cherries

until her silk blouse drops to the floor.

A whisper of wings fallen from heaven?

 

I ask. Our love talk is subtle

as the snow-dusted footprint trails

leading everywhere

and nowhere in particular.

Our embrace is deep as chocolate

fragile as a fir bough

garlanded with glass beads—hold on too tight

and they splinter in your hands.

Neglect them and they lose their lustre.

We stay too long with the wine,

eat far too luxuriously

and laugh so hard our faces hurt.

But the days are gift boxes that empty too fast

leaving us with orange peels, cracked walnut shells

and half-eaten mincemeat tarts

to show for our feast of winter solstice.

Love, throw off your chains of holly,

sprinkle your elfin dust over me

and let us begin anew

the celebration.

©1999

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About seanarthurjoyce

I am a poet, journalist and author with a strong commitment to the environment and social justice. If anything, I have too many interests and too little time in a day to pursue them all. Film, poetry, literature, music, mythology, and history probably top the list. My musical interests lie firmly in rock and blues with a smattering of folk and world music. I consider myself lucky to have lived during the great flowering of modern rock music during its Golden Age in the late 1960s/early '70s. In poetry my major inspirations are Dylan Thomas, Rilke, Neruda and the early 20th century British/American poets: Auden, Eliot, Cummings. My preferred cinema includes the great French auteurs, Kirosawa, Orson Welles, and Film Noir. My preferred social causes are too numerous to mention but include banning GMOs, eliminating poverty (ha-ha), and a sane approach to forest conservation and resource extraction. Wish me—wish us all—luck on that one!
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