Approaching the Winter Solstice this year feels a lot like turning on the news…with this exception: history tells me that the northern hemisphere WILL, despite appearances, soon begin gifting us with more light. But history makes no such promises when it comes to politics, poverty, or the poverty of politics. (And of course history is completely gobsmacked when it comes to climate chaos.)
So I went looking through the Interwebs for a Solstice poem to make myself feel better. Some light to look forward to, even as we declare “the first day of winter” and shiver on the sidewalk, or at the headlines.
I found several–some cheesy, some classical, some downright weird. (But write on, ye weird poets!) None said exactly what I was looking for. Then I checked my email inbox and found a jewel, from, of all places, our beloved local wine bar/deli, Vita’s Wildly Delicious. Well of course, the Vita’s newsletter! Who else but proprietor/chef/wine guy Bruce Botts to put his quirky finger on exactly what I needed?
Here’s the poem, by Raphael Kosek (who is, despite the name, a woman–here’s her website)
Young Man Lighting Up
The young man paused
just long enough
to cup his hand lovingly
around the cigarette
lighting it before stepping out
into the clench of four-lane traffic
weaving his way
among us as I watched him
slim and confident, bent
on reaching the store across
the street, careless with the surety
of youth, and I can only assume
he reached his destination
as I didn’t hear the screech of brakes
or bray of horns as the light
day I recalled him
and he grew
in significance because
it was so insignificant—precisely why
I kept seeing him
doing what we all do
cupping our hands
around the thin flame of something
we nurture for good or ill
as we step into the world’s
thrash—confident, fully believing
we will reach
the other side.
YES. Yes please. Can we hear that again? “…cupping our hands around the thin flame of something we nurture for good or ill as we step into the world’s thrash–confident, fully believing we will reach the other side.”
Thank you, Bruce, for passing on that thin flame. And to anyone reading this: may you find your own version of this poem when you feel the darkness deepen.
I’ll leave something that’s not a poem, but one of my favorite phrases in any language:
“Au milieu de l’hiver, j’ai découvert en moi un invincible été”
which means “In the middle of winter, I discovered in myself an invincible summer.”
It’s from Camus. Pretty optimistic for an existentialist, non?
Oh, comme c’est beau. And yes, surprisingly light! Well, I guess if Monsieur Camus can summon optimism, I can do the same. Merci, John.
If you love French as much as I do, then Camus’ French is most beautiful. It has a certain spare, incisive elegance that’s as alluring as Hemingway in English, or Octavio Paz in Spanish. There’s an Albert Camus facebook page that posts little gems from him every day.
In any case, here’s one from me. Imagine a child admiring a Christmas ornament (when you look at it, it reflects the world back at you). In that sense, an ornament is any person whom you love. I’ve always been a fan of William Blake and Emily Dickinson…
Hanging from the tree,
Do I see you,
Or a reflection of me?
I lift you gently
out of your box
into the fired air;
you catch my breath and moisten.
I have in mind
a high place for you,
in the angel’s gaze.
The tree accepts you,
your roundness alights —
cold duck on a limb —
and time stops, restarts.
A seven year-old boy
with brown hair, green eyes –
untouched by strife,
still trusting in goodness –
beholds God’s bounty,
the blessings of peace,
in your burgundy orb –
a family, whole and merry
hanging from the tree
do I see you
or a reflection of me?
Wow, John. Blake is right…with a touch of, I don’t know…Robert Frost? This is not only lovely but apt, with its theme of self-reflection (literally!) and hope for healing. Exactly. Thank you.