December 29: “Snowy Night”

Last night, an owl
in the blue dark
tossed
an indeterminate number
of carefully shaped sounds into
the world, in which,
a quarter of a mile away, I happened
to be standing.
I couldn’t tell
which one it was –
the barred or the great-horned
ship of the air –
it was that distant. But, anyway,
aren’t there moments
that are better than knowing something,
and sweeter? Snow was falling,
so much like stars
filling the dark trees
that one could easily imagine
its reason for being was nothing more
than prettiness. I suppose
if this were someone else’s story
they would have insisted on knowing
whatever is knowable – would have hurried
over the fields
to name it – the owl, I mean.
But it’s mine, this poem of the night,
and I just stood there, listening and holding out
my hands to the soft glitter
falling through the air. I love this world,
but not for its answers.
And I wish good luck to the owl,
whatever its name –
and I wish great welcome to the snow,
whatever its severe and comfortless
and beautiful meaning.

— Mary Oliver

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December 27: “The Snow is Deep on the Ground”

The snow is deep on the ground.
Always the light falls
Softly down on the hair of my beloved.

This is a good world.
The war has failed.
God shall not forget us.
Who made the snow waits where love is.

Only a few go mad.
The sky moves in its whiteness
Like the withered hand of an old king.
God shall not forget us.
Who made the sky knows of our love.

The snow is beautiful on the ground.
And always the lights of heaven glow
Softly down on the hair of my beloved.

— Kenneth Patchen

December 6: “Inspiration Point, Bryce Canyon, Utah”

Maybe it was just for this that God pulled
water from dry land: to rescue hoodoo
after hoodoo. That’s what they’re called—

a bastardization of voodoo—
these unrepeatable needles of rock,
geology’s answer to flakes of snow.

A sound enough hypothesis: dark magic.
But I like God’s approach—so straightforward:
the light, the land, the sky, each feat of handiwork

a matter of a single uttered word
(that’s the first version; the clumsy second
was more hand’s on, with dust and ribs required)

though it’s a stretch to claim this place was planned.
Maybe, just like us, God was stupefied;
He rarely knew how any day would end,

had to see things finished to call them good.
Here, He might even have done without
the bric-a-brac of the days that followed

except the fourth day’s (bodies of light)
essential for the colors of the stone,
the greater light especially adroit.

Just watch it nurse a puny flame at dawn
—purple with an edging of vermillion—
by sunrise to a full-fledged conflagration

then temper it to golden-rose by noon,
darker still as day begins to fail.
The oranges go bronze, the reds, maroon,

the whole place solid indigo by nightfall,
except on nights when a full or near-full moon
applies its inlay—mother-of-pearl

on a lamina of coral and carnelian—
or the moon’s a no-show, no stone visible,
just black on black, spikes and spires gone.

That’s when you look up: the sky’s Grand Central
(no light pollution; no clouds; conditions ideal),
rush hour’s hubbub irresistible,

the stars its thronged commuters, check by jowl.
The Park has telescopes (I once saw Jupiter)
but I prefer an open free-for-all,

the peripheral inkling of a meteor
(or was that a satellite?) or diving owl.
Some flora and fauna did make their way here

eventually, swashbucklers all:
Rattlesnake. Manzanita. Prickly pear,
its shock of blossoms at the end of April

slow-motion fireworks, the canyon floor
lost beneath magentas, yellows, reds
or bristle-cone pine, launching spectacular

high-wire acrobatics off the cliff sides,
where that gifted horticulturist,
the nuthatch, a glutton for its seeds,

disseminates them when it stops to rest—
quite ingenious of God, if oddly fanciful
for so inveterate a fatalist,

that is, if God’s mixed up in this at all.
The Park prefers the Piutes’ explanation:
the hoodoos were once the legend people

shape shifters, native to this region,
turned for some unnamable transgression
by vigilant Coyote into stone,

their face-paint still intact, their tradition
of shape-shifting now upheld in unison,
a nonstop frenzy of dissimulation:

now a storm-tossed, now a tranquil, ocean
flocked by scarlet ibis, pink flamingos,
now dreamscape, now valley of the moon,

now ransacked cathedrals’ lost rose windows
now an amphitheater’s hushed proscenium,
now leafless aspens, elms, catalpas, willows

now phantom hollyhock, delphinium,
now flashback, now panicked premonition,
now truce, now skirmish, now pandemonium,

now parachutes (a daredevil battalion
floating toward an ill-fated attack)
now blushing debutantes (their first cotillion)

now parched oasis, now bivouac,
close by each golden tent a golden torch,
now red-robed Russian choirs, now ecstatic

ovations from thick stands of golden birch,
now burnished temple, now tarnished city,
now bands of acolytes—in mosque, in church

or here, assembling legends of Coyote—
scrambling to get down on their untried knees
and thank someone—anyone—for all this beauty,

though maybe it’s the frost they ought to praise,
the real creator, according to science,
how it would melt and freeze, melt and freeze

and then, in a matter of mere eons
(no wind involved, windy as it is),
chisel what must be earth’s most flimsy stone—

limestone, siltstone, mudstone—into this.
Not surprising, really, when you think what frost
can achieve, in seconds, on a pane of glass—

always a revelation, when a miniaturist
takes his genius for precision large-scale:
the landscape behind the Mystic Lamb as Christ

in the Ghent altarpiece, for example,
an exhaustive primer of floral specimens,
rendered in botanical detail,

art both mainstay and intimate of science –
think Leonardo—and science of art.
What fools we were to leave the Renaissance

behind us, to tear ourselves apart
into more and more obscure specialization.
Not that it matters here. Science and art,

even in conjunction with their on-again
off-again confederate, religion,
are speechless in the presence of this canyon.

Even God needs two versions of Creation
at the start of Genesis. Some things defy
a single overarching explanation.

Maybe everything does, if you look carefully.
And what’s a day exactly, when the sun
hasn’t yet been added to the sky?

That third day might still go going on,
everything I’m staring at still raw,
God on overdrive, the frost a madman,

consumed by each imaginary flaw.
Am I a witness? An alibi? A spy?
And what’s this delirium? this terror? this awe?

Is the sky hallucinating? Am I?
Inspiration Point, Bryce Canyon, Utah
Just let me stand here with an open eye.

— Jacqueline Osherow

November 24: “Merry Autumn”

It’s all a farce,—these tales they tell
About the breezes sighing,
And moans astir o’er field and dell,
Because the year is dying.

Such principles are most absurd,—
I care not who first taught ’em;
There’s nothing known to beast or bird
To make a solemn autumn.

In solemn times, when grief holds sway
With countenance distressing,
You’ll note the more of black and gray
Will then be used in dressing.

Now purple tints are all around;
The sky is blue and mellow;
And e’en the grasses turn the ground
From modest green to yellow.

The seed burrs all with laughter crack
On featherweed and jimson;
And leaves that should be dressed in black
Are all decked out in crimson.

A butterfly goes winging by;
A singing bird comes after;
And Nature, all from earth to sky,
Is bubbling o’er with laughter.

The ripples wimple on the rills,
Like sparkling little lasses;
The sunlight runs along the hills,
And laughs among the grasses.

The earth is just so full of fun
It really can’t contain it;
And streams of mirth so freely run
The heavens seem to rain it.

Don’t talk to me of solemn days
In autumn’s time of splendor,
Because the sun shows fewer rays,
And these grow slant and slender.

Why, it’s the climax of the year,—
The highest time of living!—
Till naturally its bursting cheer
Just melts into thanksgiving.

— Paul Laurence Dunbar

November 17: “Why Whales Are Back in New York City”

After a century, humpbacks migrate
again to Queens. They left
due to sewage and white froth

banking the shores from polychlorinated-
biphenyl-dumping into the Hudson
and winnowing menhaden schools.

But now grace, dark bodies of song
return. Go to the seaside—

Hold your breath. Submerge.
A black fluke silhouetted
against the Manhattan skyline.

Now ICE beats doors
down on Liberty Avenue
to deport. I sit alone on orange

A train seats, mouth sparkling
from Singh’s, no matter how
white supremacy gathers

at the sidewalks, flows down
the streets, we still beat our drums
wild. Watch their false-god statues

prostrate to black and brown hands.
They won’t keep us out
though they send us back.

Our songs will pierce the dark
fathoms. Behold the miracle:

what was once lost
now leaps before you.

— Rajiv Mohabir