Friday, December 24, 2010

Christmas and New Year's Wishes (Vol. 2, No. 16)

Everyone loves "Chopin with Cherries" - even Lech Walesa! He came to California for a brief, unofficial visit, on behalf of his foundation, to celebrate the 30th anniversary of the Solidarity movement. There were lectures and receptions and an opportunity to present him with a copy of our anthology, inscribed "to a wonderful hero of our times." If he does not lose it on the way, scholars of political history will find the book in his library and wonder how on earth did it get there...


For the holiday season, I was asked to write something "Christmasy" for the party of Little Landers Historical Society at Bolton Hall in Tujunga. I thought that a recent poem for a married couple celebrating their 35th wedding anniversary would fit it quite well, if there was a carol in the text. I chose to quote a carol that remains one of the most beloved Polish carols, cited by Fryderyk Chopin in his Scherzo in B-minor, op. 20.

Married Christmas

May your path be smooth,
and your sunlight mellow
~ an old blessing

He said
“You are the apple of my eye”
She said
“Let us have tea for two”

Steam rises from bronze liquid
freshly-baked szarlotka waits its turn
scent of cinnamon sweetens the air
the music box plays an ancient carol

Lulajże, Jezuniu, moja perełko,
Lulaj ulubione me pieścidełko

She does not have to finish –
one glance and he knows
after thirty-five years together
faithful like cranes on a Chinese etching

Their looking glass is hidden away
in a box of treasures they don’t need
to find blessings
among daily crumbs of affection

The carol's text incipit means: “Hush, hush, Baby Jesus, my little pearl, my lovely little darling…” – This ancient Polish carol is a simple lullaby, filled with tender love for the infant, held in the arms of his gentle mother. There are many lullabies among Polish carols; the focus of Polish Christmas is on the baby and his mother, on the familial love that binds them. The Lulajże Jezuniu carol is sung throughout the Christmas holiday season, from Christmas Eve to February 2nd, the Candlemas.

Last year, I was traveling close to Christmas, and the empty airports were full of fake cheer, recorded Christmas carols blaring from the loudspeakers and tinsel with childish decorations everywhere. The poem I wrote about that is similar in tone to the "Married Christmas" - extolling the virtue of the subtle affection, gentle understanding of a shared life, the true family virtue...

Rules for Happy Holy Days

Don’t play Christmas carols
at the airport. Amidst the roar
of jet engines, they will spread
a blanket of loneliness
over the weary, huddled masses,
trying not to cry out for home.

Don’t put Christmas light on a poplar.
With branches swathed in white
galaxies, under yellow leaves, the tree
will become foreign, like the skeleton
of an electric fish, deep in the ocean.

Clean the windows from the ashes
of last year’s fires. Glue the wings
of a torn paper angel. Brighten
your home with the fresh scent
of pine needles and rosemary.

Take a break from chopping almonds
to brush the cheek of your beloved
with the back of your hand,
just once, gently. Smile and say:
“You look so nice, dear,
you look so nice.”

This is the poetry of a moment in the kitchen, home cooking meals of the season and sharing a togetherness and affection that is quite beyond words, yet forms the very fabric of life.

Thanks to all poets and friends who have shared our Chopin with Cherries journey through the Chopin year. Happy New Year with Chopin, Music and Poetry!

1 comment:

oriana said...

Another great post. I adore the first stanza of "Rules" -- esp the reference to the huddled masses. The second stanza too is marvelously original. Poplars were actually sacred to Persephone.

And it's a treat to see Walesa's mustache again!