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 26: “The Giver of Stars”

Hold your soul open for my welcoming.
Let the quiet of your spirit bathe me
With its clear and rippled coolness,
That, loose-limbed and weary, I find rest,
Outstretched upon your peace, as on a bed of ivory.

Let the flickering flame of your soul play all about me,
That into my limbs may come the keenness of fire,
The life and joy of tongues of flame,
And, going out from you, tightly strung and in tune,
I may rouse the blear-eyed world,
And pour into it the beauty which you have begotten.

— Amy Lowell

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 27: “Winter Stars”

I went out at night alone;
The young blood flowing beyond the sea
Seemed to have drenched my spirit’s wings—
I bore my sorrow heavily.

But when I lifted up my head
From shadows shaken on the snow,
I saw Orion in the east
Burn steadily as long ago.

From windows in my father’s house,
Dreaming my dreams on winter nights,
I watched Orion as a girl
Above another city’s lights.

Years go, dreams go, and youth goes too,
The world’s heart breaks beneath its wars,
All things are changed, save in the east
The faithful beauty of the stars.

— Sara Teasdale

November 2: “Say Grace”

In my country our shamans were women
and our gods multiple until white people brought
an ecstasy of rosaries and our cities today
glow with crosses like graveyards. As a child
in Sunday school I was told I’d go to hell
if I didn’t believe in God. Our teacher was a woman
whose daughters wanted to be nuns and I asked
What about babies and what about Buddha, and she said
They’re in hell too and so I memorized prayers
and recited them in front of women
I did not believe in. Deliver us from evil.
O sweet Virgin Mary, amen. O sweet. O sweet.
In this country, which calls itself Christian,
what is sweeter than hearing Have mercy
on us. From those who serve different gods. O
clement, O loving, O God, O God, amidst ruins,
amidst waters, fleeing, fleeing. Deliver us from evil.
O sweet, O sweet. In this country,
point at the moon, at the stars, point at the way the lake lies,
with a hand full of feathers,
and they will look at the feathers. And kill you for it.
If a word for religion they don’t believe in is magic
so be it, let us have magic. Let us have
our own mothers and scarves, our spirits,
our shamans and our sacred books. Let us keep
our stars to ourselves and we shall pray
to no one. Let us eat
what makes us holy.

— Emily Jungmin Yoon