"One ought, every day at least, to hear a little song, read a good poem, see a fine picture
and, if possible, speak a few reasonable words. " ~Goethe

~ also, if possible, to dwell in "a house where all's accustomed, ceremonious." ~Yeats

Wednesday, March 15, 2017

The Ides of Whatever

A TIME WHERE ALL'S ACCUSTOMED, CEREMONIOUS
Posting a day late in honor of the time - honored
historic and historical Ides of March.


I came across this mysteriously annotated sugar packet when cleaning out my backpack the other day. How can I explain it? I searched my mind but drew a blank. It seems that once again I've written a note to myself yet completely forgotten what it was that I intended to remember. I can only assume that at some point in my travels, a stray thought crossed my mind -- something about "The Present" -- and, having a pen in hand but no paper, I jotted down a note to myself on the nearest portable surface -- thank goodness for the ubiquity of sugar packets!

Alas, despite my best intentions, I am unable to interpret the message, sent by my very own self from the past into the future, never to be understood in the present. I am not alone, however; Joan Didion's journal entry -- "dinner with E, depressed" -- suffers the same indecipherable fate:

Who is E?
Was this "E" depressed,
or was I depressed?

Maybe one day my sugar packet message will reveal itself to me. Was I thinking of a gift for someone -- a present to purchase, wrap, send, or bring to a party? Was it perhaps a self - actualizing reminder to stay focused on the time at hand, to live in the present moment. One thing I know for sure, I will never solve this riddle by staring at the sugar packet, so I think it is about time to move on to some poetry about time.

So often we are impatient for time to pass. Years ago, in a book from childhood, I read a story that warned against such impatience. I have lost all the details -- title, author, plot; yet one scene has stayed with me, though I can no longer recall the names of the characters: the grandchildren are piled into a one - horse open sleigh, riding over the river and through the wood with their grandfather. Excited for their destination, they start wishing they were already there, but the grandfather warns: "You must never wish the time away!" How often that line has come back to me!

Even so, we sometimes wish for the time to fly. The Here and Now can drive us a little crazy -- making us tense, so to speak! It might be that you are not really into the Ides of March, or the Ides of He Who Must Not Be Named, or the Ides of Whatever. Maybe March just isn't your favorite month, as was certainly the case for one of my favorite Philadelphia columnists Karen Heller (now of the Washington Post). In her humorous essay "Nine days to go," she gloomily describes the final days of February:
You must not fight February but embrace it like the cold, wet, aging testy, mangy, drooling gray mutt that it is. February is here to make us appreciate May . . . How can you love May when you haven't Februaryed in grand style? And so we wallow and we wait knowing that only this month could deliver a comeback, a punchline, a headache as nasty and wicked and ugly as February.
March.
~ from the Philadelphia Inquirer, mid 1990s
Poet Leonard Orr shares the negative sentiment, suggesting "daychotomies" or "weekectomies" to get through the offending times, going so far as to eliminate entirely The Month That Must Not Be Named. Even the title offers some alternatives to the Present Tense:
Past Tense, Future Tense
My naive calendar has so much sadness now
I could not stand it. Little did I know,
little did I know. I snipped away the foul days.
I completely excised whatever was that
month after February, its name I will not mention.
If it comes up accidentally, I drown it out
with whirling greigers and stamping feet.
April
turned out far better, though individual days
when we could not be together, these I carefully
snipped away, performing daychotomies,
weekectomies, and sutured the ragged sad edges
together, wetting the wounds as needed
with my abundant fluids, all my excess. I expanded
those few times we were together, those dates
receiving hour - augmentations; I botoxed my tongue,
the tips of my fingers, to seal inside me those
recollections of you, the spectacular aerie,
the tiny bits of time, ticking, always ticking.
May and the first days of June, little did I konw,
little did I know, so wonderful and blissful,
joyful in my last days, my running out of sand,
and now these blanks of time, soggy, unprinted
months with no days, no light, no passionate glowing.

(emphasis added)
~ Leonard Orr ~
from his collection Why We Have Evening

P.S.
Political Post Script for
The Ides of Trump

My postcard messasges:
1. Stop Gerrymandering
2. Protect Planned Parenthood & Roe v. Wade
3. Don't Build the Wall
4. Remember the traditional motto of our country:
E Pluribus Unum
5. Honor the Statue of Liberty:
"Give me your tired your poor . . . the homeless . . .
I lift my lamp beside the golden door."

SEE YOU IN TWO WEEKS ON MY
Next Fortnightly Post
Tuesday, March 28th

Between now and then, read
THE QUOTIDIAN KIT
my shorter, almost daily blog posts
www.dailykitticarriker.blogspot.com

Looking for a good book? Try
KITTI'S LIST
my running list of recent reading
www.kittislist.blogspot.com

Tuesday, February 28, 2017

Work, Play, Wordplay

AN OCEAN WHERE ALL'S ACCUSTOMED, CEREMONIOUS
As Far As the I Can Sea

For cruise reading earlier this month, I took along Lolita, which has been on my "to read" list for 40 years or so. After the first few pages of Humbert Humbert's clever alliterative word sequences, I thought back to the time when I set out to write a paper about Work, Play, and Wordplay in the short story "Araby". I never tire of re - reading this story of illusion and disillusion:
"The cold air stung us and we played till our bodies glowed. Our shouts echoed in the silent street. The career of our play brought us through the dark muddy lanes behind the houses, where we ran the gauntlet of the rough tribes from the cottages, to the back doors of the dark dripping gardens . . .

"I answered few questions in class. I watched my master's face pass from amiability to sternness; he hoped I was not beginning to idle. I could not call my wandering thoughts together. I had hardly any patience with the serious work of life which, now that it stood between me and my desire, seemed to me child's play, ugly monotonous child's play. . . .

"My uncle said he was very sorry he had forgotten. He said he believed in the old saying: 'All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy.' "

James Joyce ~"Araby" ~ Dubliners ~ 1914
"The career of our play" -- there is just something so pleasing about that phrase and the use of "career" to mean a crazy path -- not a life - work trajectory. Even though I know that Joyce meant play, I still thought of work -- as does the boy's uncle. After all, the narrator of "Araby" is a very serious boy, earnest and task - oriented, who merges work and play. He is not looking for fun at the bazaar, he is on a quest.

Likewise, I know the boys in the story were rushing headlong around the neighborhood -- careering. But perhaps they were also tilting and veering -- careening. Work Play Career Careen. How enmeshed are these linguistic connections? Word Detective explains the etymology:
Although “careen” and “career” as verbs are often used interchangeably today, they are, in fact, quite separate words. Strictly speaking, “careen” [Latin root = “carina" = “keel of a ship”] means “to lean over, to tilt,” while “career” [Latin root = “carrus” = “wheeled vehicle”] as a verb means “to rush at full speed” (with implications of recklessness). . . .

“Career” as a verb meaning “to move at full speed” is actually the same word as the noun “career” meaning “profession or course of employment or activity.” . . .

Interestingly, “careen” and “career” began to be used interchangeably only in the early 20th century, just about the time people noticed that a motor car rounding a curve at high speed (“careering”) tended to tilt quite a bit (“careening”). Purists still draw a distinction between the two words, but it’s really a losing battle at this point.
At long last I realize what would have saved the day for my rejected paper proposal -- having read Lolita 35 years ago instead of waiting until now! If only I had done so, I could have bolstered my argument with numerous examples from Nabokov, the Master of Wordplay! Some of my favorites:
43: "Monsieur Poe - poe," as that boy . . . called the poet - poet

43, 81: a swim in Our Glass Lake . . . Hourglass Lake -- not as I had thought it was spelled

50: she denies those amusing rumors, rumor, roomer

53: Haze, Dolores . . . dolorous and hazy

54: creeping . . . crippling

57, 60: Humbert the Hummer . . . Humbert the Hound

60: Carmen - barmen . . . barmen, alarmin', my charmin', my carmen, ahmen, ahhamen . . .

70: the dreadful, mysterious, insidious words "trauma," "traumatic event," and "transom"

71: I might blackmail -- no, that is too strong a word -- mauvemail

77: ecru and ocher and putty - buff - snuff

92: Campus, Canada, Candid Camera, Candy . . . Canoeing or Canvasback

112: Anyway, something abdominal. Abominable? No, adominal.

114: "Ensuite?" . . . "Ansooit . . . "

118: not Humberg and not Humbug, but Herbert, I mean Humbert . . .

118: "I think it went to the Swoons," said Swine . . .
Unfortunately, as with Catcher in the Rye, I came late to Lolita. Otherwise, I might have used Nabokov's examples of connective wordplay to substantiate my own: work play career careen. Or as Humbert Humbert himself might have elaborated: Career Careen Cartoon Cardoon. If one well - placed word brings to mind another, follow the connection and see what happens! Who knows what truth may be revealed by the time you reach then end of the chain? Never mind the naysayers and killjoys; no vocabulary connection is without merit.

After reading Lolita at sea, it is now time to re - read Reading Lolita in Tehran. No doubt, thanks to my new, improved understanding of Nabokov, many previously missed connections will fall into place. Coincidences are always there for the taking. Connections are always there for the making.

". . . to the Bermudas or the Bahamas or the Blazes."
(Lolita, 36)

Wordplay from previous posts . . .

Len Lent Lentils

Cat, Bat, Batman, Batuman, Batground

Annecharico, Carrigan Carrillo, Carriker, O'Kereke

********************

Cerebral Typos . . .
When I meant THOUGH, I added a final "T" and typed THOUGHT.
When I meant THIN, I added a final "K" and typed THINK.

********************

Gerry's Cruise Reading:
Every Man Dies Alone by Hans Fallada

SEE YOU IN TWO WEEKS ON MY
Next Fortnightly Post
Wednesday, March 15th ~ "Beware the Ides of March!"

Between now and then, read
THE QUOTIDIAN KIT
my shorter, almost daily blog posts
www.dailykitticarriker.blogspot.com

Looking for a good book? Try
KITTI'S LIST
my running list of recent reading
www.kittislist.blogspot.com

Tuesday, February 14, 2017

A Date With Data

A SETTLEMENT WHERE ALL'S ACCUSTOMED, CEREMONIOUS
St. Augustine, Florida ~ Artist's Rendition at the Doubletree

Just before Valentine's Day, I had the good fortune to attend one of Thornton May's Value Studio 45 workshops in St. Augustine. The focus of the conference, with an opening presentation by Gerry McCartney, was "What's the Big Deal About Big Data?" Typically when I travel with Gerry, I wander around visiting nearby historical houses and art museums, but this time I had my own lanyard and identification badge -- "Literary Blogger" -- and attended every session.


As a warm - up exercise, Thornton asked each table to write a few sentences containing the word data. Our group went first, and as each sentence was read aloud, an impromptu data poem began to take shape, beginning and ending with a reference to everyone's favorite near - human android:
Data is my favorite character on Star Trek.

Data is the new bacon.

What can I make the data do for me and my company?

We need more than data divas;
we need curators across the enterprise / curriculum.

If you're not using data, you're not going to last.

My data will call your data.

Digital
Artifact
To
Accelerate

Data About Data

Data Search = A Meeting With Google

Data is the lifeblood of everything.

Data can be real, perceived, or fake.

Crime has a lot of data.

Failure to trust data leads to error - prone human override.

Decisions require correct data points.

Avoid incorrect assumptions about data.

Do not ignore data that contradict preconceived notions.

Will Big Data go away like TQM?

Data can tell you where your assets are located.

Valuable Data Point: crunch it up and eat it;
internalize, digest, embody.

If you want your data to matter,
your data people have to matter too.

Data is more than just a way of validating
existing plans and assumptions.

Data has a a story to tell.
Are you willing to listen?
Are you able to act?

Table one stole our Data Sentence!

Henricus de Alemannia Lecturing his Students
from Laurentius de Voltolina, 1350s

Gerry entertained the crowd with slides of a classroom from the past and an office from the future. You'll notice that the classroom of today is little changed from what we see here 665 years ago: a lecture delivered from a front podium to rows of students, some alert but others whispering, chatting, sleeping, gawking aimlessly, daydreaming!

The mid - century office from a long - ago future catches the fashion but misses the fundamentals. The streamlined, aerodynamic look of 1947 may seem silly and non - functional to us; yet, how could those fanciful designers of 70 years ago have foreseen our cell phones and laptops?


Gerry's discussion of how 21st century technology has infused the workplace and the classroom environment was followed by presentations on a lively range of topics, from "DNA Cybersecurity to The Five Languages of Love; from "Data in Food Service" (the business of selling an experience and creating a memory) to "Data & Golf" (predictive data applied in the immediate moment); from a brief history of the ATM banking in Las Vegas to the constant concern of "Data Protection" -- reminding me of the time a few years ago when we got a call inquiring if we were cool with paying $5000 for some dresses in Paris! My first question -- are they my size? Alas, we declined the purchase! Now, how did someone in Paris get our credit card number? You'd be surprised!

Coincidentally, I had just been reading about DNA -- not the technological kind but the biological kind -- in the book that I had brought along for airplane reading: The Thing About Life Is That One Day You'll Be Dead by contemporary American novelist and essayist David Shields. In a meandering combination of autobiography, biography, statistics, and favorite quotations, Shields describes the biological, practical, and existential nature of the human genome as a massive data storage and retrieval system:

The body is, for all intents and purposes, the host, and the reproductive system is the parasite that brings the body to its death.

As the biologist E. O. Wilson says, "In a Darwinian sense, the organism does not live for itself. It's primary function is not even to reproduce other organisms; it reproduces genes and it serves as their temporary carrier. . . . the organism is only DNA's way of making more DNA.

. . . According to Luc Bussiere . . . "For humans, this might seem counterpoductive because we don't want to die young. We want live long lives. But for animals [yes, including humans!] the goal isn't living longer; it's to reproduce." The survival instinct and the reproductive instinct are opposed.

. . . You can't choose not to have children and thereby gain extra years of life by redirecting your resources for reproduction into efforts at self - maintenance. Your genes make you disposable but have not left you the flexibility to choose to live a longer life by not propagating them.

A mortal animal is a germ cell's way of making more germ cells, thereby optimizing the likelihood that they fuse with germ cells of the opposite sex. The continuation of the germ line is the driving force of natural selection; longevity of individual animals is of secondary importance. Animals are selected through evolution for having physiological reserves greater than the minimum necessary to reach sexual maturation and rear progeny to independence, but once this goal has been accomplished, they have sufficient excess reserve capacity to coast for a period of time, the remainder of which is called your life span. . . . There's really only one immutable biological law, it has only two imperatives, and it gets stated in dozens of ways: spawn and die. (124 - 128)

. . . as Michel Houellebecq writes . . . "chromosomal separation . . . is in itself a source of structural instability. In other words, all species dependent on sexual reproduction are by definition mortal." (206)

As soon as your reproductive role has been accomplished, you're disposable . . . nature has little interest in what happens next . . . physiological resources go into reproduction, not into prolonging life thereafter . . . The individual doesn't matter . . . We're vectors on the grids of cellular life . . . Aging followed by death is the price we pay for the immortality of our genes. You find this information soul - killing; I find it thrilling, liberating. Life, in my view, is simple, tragic, and eerily beautiful.
(211 - 213)
~ David Shields ~

Maybe that's the Big Deal About Big Data!

"Data has a a story to tell.
Are you willing to listen?
Are you able to act?"

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~


In conclusion, many thanks to Gerry
for bringing me along and to
~ Thurgood, Thurman, Thurston, Thornton ~
for inviting us to Studio 45!
[Can you tell that I've moved on from David Shields
to Vladimir Nabakov's Lolita?
More on that next time!

Posting late due to distraction of the high seas . . .

SEE YOU IN TWO WEEKS ON MY
Next Fortnightly Post
Tuesday, February 28th

Between now and then, read
THE QUOTIDIAN KIT
my shorter, almost daily blog posts
www.dailykitticarriker.blogspot.com

Looking for a good book? Try
KITTI'S LIST
my running list of recent reading
www.kittislist.blogspot.com

Saturday, January 28, 2017

The Age of Aquarius: It's a Sign!

A SKY WHERE ALL'S ACCUSTOMED, CEREMONIOUS
The Constellation Acquarius ~ The Water Carrier or Cupbearer
Photo from Astrology Zone

The Age of Aquarius is both an astronomical and an astrological event. A new age begins, every 2,150 years, each time that the Sun rises in a particular constellation on the morning of the vernal equinox. The transition is imprecise: some say the shift from our current Age of Pisces to the popularly anticipated Age of Aquarius occurred in 2012, while others set the year at 2597.

Looking up at the cold, dark January sky, I wonder about the prophetic words that echo down from the ancient texts and into the songs we sing today. For example, the popular yet melancholy "It Came Upon Midnight Clear," written by Edmund H. Sears in 1849:

It came upon the midnight clear,
That glorious song of old,
From angels bending near the earth,
To touch their harps of gold:
"Peace on the earth, goodwill to men,
From heaven's all-gracious King."
The world in solemn stillness lay,
To hear the angels sing.

Still through the cloven skies they come,
With peaceful wings unfurled,
And still their heavenly music floats
O'er all the weary world;
Above its sad and lowly plains,
They bend on hovering wing,
And ever o'er its babel sounds
The blessèd angels sing.

Yet with the woes of sin and strife
The world has suffered long;
Beneath the angel-strain have rolled
Two thousand years of wrong;
And man, at war with man, hears not
The tidings which they bring;
O hush the noise, and cease your strife,
And hear the angels sing.

And ye, beneath life's crushing load,
Whose forms are bending low,
Who toil along the climbing way
With painful steps and slow,
Look now! for glad and golden hours
come swiftly on the wing.
O rest beside the weary road,
And hear the angels sing!


Fans of Grey's Anatomy will remember Sixpence None the Richer's beautiful haunting rendition, so different from the usual arrangements by Richard Storrs Willis or Arthur Sullivan. Sadly, Sixpence doesn't include the visionary final stanza, my favorite:

For lo!, the days are hastening on,
By prophet bards foretold,
[or "By prophets seen of old"]
When with the ever-circling years
Comes round the age of gold
[or "Shall come the time foretold"]
When peace shall over all the earth
Its ancient splendors fling,
And the whole world give back the song
Which now the angels sing.


I'm similarly drawn to the line in "Hark! The Herald Angels Sing": Late in time, behold Him come [more on this hymn next year].

For now, I'll merely ask, How late in time? When shall this mystic, cosmic time come to pass? Must we wait until "the year 2525"? Or has it perhaps already come and gone, lost somewhere "in the mists of time"? The once and future dispensation. Or, as the kids used to say when they were little, once a time before.

********************

A Song for Dawning

Aquarius / Let the Sunshine In
Sung by The 5th Dimension (1969)

When the moon is in the Seventh House
And Jupiter aligns with Mars
Then peace will guide the planets
And love will steer the stars
This is the dawning of the age of Aquarius
Age of Aquarius
Aquarius
Aquarius

Harmony and understanding
Sympathy and trust abounding
No more falsehoods or derisions
Golden living dreams of visions
Mystic crystal revelation
And the mind's true liberation
Aquarius
Aquarius

When the moon is in the Seventh House
And Jupiter aligns with Mars
Then peace will guide the planets
And love will steer the stars
This is the dawning of the age of Aquarius
Age of Aquarius
Aquarius, Aquarius
Aquarius, Aquarius

Let the sunshine, let the sunshine in, the sunshine in
Let the sunshine, let the sunshine in, the sunshine in


********************

A Song for Evening

As Tears Go By
sung by Mary Ann Faithfull (1964)

It is the evening of the day
I sit and watch the children play
Smiling faces I can see
But not for me
I sit and watch
As tears go by

My riches can't buy everything
I want to hear the children sing
All I hear is the sound
Of rain falling on the ground
I sit and watch
As tears go by

It is the evening of the day
I sit and watch the children play
Doing things I used to do
They think are new
I sit and watch
As tears go by


Songwriters:
Andrew Loog Oldham / Keith Richards / Mick Jagger

********************

Whether or not the Age of Aquarius has arrived,
the zodiacal month (January 20 to February 18) certainly has.
Some of my relatives were born under this sign,
but I'm not naming names:

Click to see more of these astrological funnies,
including my own sign ~ Gemini

SEE YOU IN TWO WEEKS ON MY
Next Fortnightly Post
Tuesday, February 14th

Between now and then, read
THE QUOTIDIAN KIT ~ Ornaments from Meg & Resolutions
my shorter, almost daily blog posts
www.dailykitticarriker.blogspot.com

Looking for a good book? Try
KITTI'S LIST ~ Barbara G. Walker on Christmas
my running list of recent reading
www.kittislist.blogspot.com

Saturday, January 14, 2017

"The wishes are old, old . . . "

A NEW YEAR WHERE ALL'S ACCUSTOMED, CEREMONIOUS
Heading Home by British Artist, Darren Dearden
Picture on our Christmas card from Gerry's Auntie Jan

Vintage Poem & Calligraphy by Gerry's Great Aunt Pol

For this Fortnightly, I offer an assortment of New Year aphorisms to guide you in the formulation of your Resolutions for 2017. "How are they all connected?" you might ask. Here's how:

The priest tells Jackie that we humans are granted just enough -- enough whatever: curiosity, motivation, hope, responsibility -- to jump (or crawl) out of bed and get the coffee going.

Brian Andreas says to pour that coffee into the cup and hold close all that it represents -- a new day, a new year, a new chance, a renewed invitation to love.

Great Auntie Pol reminds us nostalgically that everything old is new again, and everything new is old.

Cousin Dan sums it all up in a sympathetic parable: for whatever is lost, something remains; for whomever we lose, many others remain on the path with us.

And speaking of that path -- Newsies offers a word to the wise: ours is not to run away, ours is to embrace!

Assorted Wisdom for the New Year

~ From Newsies ~

When you go somewhere
and it turns out to be the wrong place,
you can always go somewhere else.
But if you are running away, Jack,
nowhere is ever the right place.


**************

~ From Jackie ~
Film Script @ Indie Wire
Priest [portrayed by actor John Hurt]: There comes a time in your search for meaning, when you realize -- there are no answers. When you come to that horrible, unavoidable realization -- you accept it. Or you kill yourself. Or you simply stop searching.

I have lived a blessed life. And yet every night when I climb into bed, turn off the lights, and stare into the dark, I wonder -- is this all there is?

Jackie: You wonder?

Priest: Every soul on this planet does. And then, when morning comes, we all wake up and make a pot of coffee.

Jackie: Why do we bother?

Priest: Because we do. You did this morning, and you will again tomorrow. God, in his infinite wisdom, has made sure it is just enough for us.
**************

Brian Andreas says it this way:

**************

And in conclusion,
A New Year's Meditation
from my nephew Dan:
So here's the thing, guys: We're all glad to see 2016 end. It was a hell of a ride; we lost so many talented people (and yet we still have Ted Nugent for some damn reason), had to watch Britain pass an utterly boneheaded motion to leave the EU, and then had to watch America top that with a glib "Here, hold my drink" by electing His Holiness, The High Cheez-It.

But is it all bad? I mean seriously, look at it objectively. There are plenty of indispensable people whom 2016 didn't claim: George Takei, for instance, or Nathan Fillion, or Buzz Aldrin, or or or or or -- I could go on, and we can all take comfort in the fact that if I did, it would be a REALLY long list.

As for political issues, I'm not exaggerating when I say that I've never seen so many people unite against a common enemy. (Scratch that; I've seen it once before, in the weeks following 9/11.) We've all gone out of our way to help each other out, to support our friends and family when they need it; and underlying all of that, there's been one simple statement: You are not alone. We're all in this thing together, and to quote Shepherd Book: "Only one thing is gonna walk you though this . . . Belief." We have to believe in each other, and in the simple idea that things can get better.

Yeesh, pull up your boots, it's gettin' deep in here. ;) Okay, enough of that. Happy New Year!

SEE YOU IN TWO WEEKS ON MY
Next Fortnightly Post
Saturday, January 28th

Between now and then, read
THE QUOTIDIAN KIT
my shorter, almost daily blog posts
www.dailykitticarriker.blogspot.com

Looking for a good book? Try
KITTI'S LIST
my running list of recent reading
www.kittislist.blogspot.com

Wednesday, December 28, 2016

Irish Village Christmas

A VILLAGE WHERE ALL'S ACCUSTOMED, CEREMONIOUS
I haven't read this novel yet, but I love the cover:
An Irish Country Christmas by Patrick Taylor
Irish - Canadian professor and novelist

Last year around this time a literary friend and neighbor wrote from Ireland to share this poem for the season, observing that Patrick Kavanagh "is a generally wonderful poet and not as well recognized in the States as he should be." Now is the perfect time to rectify that literary gap with Kavanagh's Christmas reverie, reminiscent of Thomas Hardy's "The Oxen" and Dylan Thomas's A Child's Christmas in Wales (Firetrucks, Christmas Cakes, Ghost Stories). All three writers capture the magic of Christmas night through the hopeful vision of a six - year - old. As Kavanagh says, "I was six Christmases of age":

A Christmas Childhood
I
One side of the potato-pits was white with frost –
How wonderful that was, how wonderful!
And when we put our ears to the paling-post
The music that came out was magical.

The light between the ricks of hay and straw
Was a hole in Heaven’s gable. An apple tree
With its December-glinting fruit we saw –
O you, Eve, were the world that tempted me

To eat the knowledge that grew in clay
And death the germ within it! Now and then
I can remember something of the gay
Garden that was childhood’s. Again

The tracks of cattle to a drinking-place,
A green stone lying sideways in a ditch,
Or any common sight, the transfigured face
Of a beauty that the world did not touch.

II
My father played the melodion
Outside at our gate;
There were stars in the morning east
And they danced to his music.

Across the wild bogs his melodion called
To Lennons and Callans.
As I pulled on my trousers in a hurry
I knew some strange thing had happened.

Outside in the cow-house my mother
Made the music of milking;
The light of her stable-lamp was a star
And the frost of Bethlehem made it twinkle.

A water-hen screeched in the bog,
Mass-going feet
Crunched the wafer-ice on the pot-holes,
Somebody wistfully twisted the bellows wheel.

My child poet picked out the letters
On the grey stone,
In silver the wonder of a Christmas townland,
The winking glitter of a frosty dawn.

Cassiopeia was over
Cassidy’s hanging hill,
I looked and three whin bushes rode across
The horizon — the Three Wise Kings.

And old man passing said:
‘Can’t he make it talk –
The melodion.’ I hid in the doorway
And tightened the belt of my box-pleated coat.

I nicked six nicks on the door-post
With my penknife’s big blade –
There was a little one for cutting tobacco.
And I was six Christmases of age.

My father played the melodion,
My mother milked the cows,
And I had a prayer like a white rose pinned
On the Virgin Mary’s blouse.


Patrick Kavanagh (1904 - 67)
Irish poet and novelist

My own Irish Christmas story is not one of childhood, but goes back to another magical time in 1989, when Gerry and I visited the university town of Maynooth where he had lived for nine years before coming to the U.S. I had never been to Ireland before, and Gerry had not been back since his relocation to Indiana, over two years previously. Gerry likes to tell the old joke that whenever a plane lands in Ireland, things are so backward and behind the times that the pilot advises the passengers to set their watches back a couple of decades -- or even centuries, Brigadoon style. Haha. For me, however, this turned out to be a good thing, not regressive but nostalgic, just like the movies. You know, that cinematic nostalgia for a time that has never actually been.

We had driven straight from the Dublin airport in our rental car, parked at the curb on Main Street (yes, just like in America), and the moment Gerry stepped out of the car, someone dragging a Christmas tree down the sidewalk (purchased moments before from the local lot), called out "Hey, Gerry me lad" (or something like that; not that I know how to write -- or speak! -- with an Irish accent, but you get the idea)! It was exactly like a scene from any all - American Christmas movie that you might care to name.

We had shared our plans with only one family -- the friends with whom we were staying; so it's not as if the entire campus was expecting us, yet several other people came right over to greet us or waved and called out as they passed by. I could hardly believe it! Was it a set - up? We went in the pub -- The Roost, where Gerry had been a regular -- for some cheese sandwiches, and it was the same thing all over again: "Oh, have a seat here mate." Truly it was as if Gerry had never been away. You would have thought the last time he'd been there was maybe for lunch the day before. I couldn't help thinking of Cheers: everybody knew his name; they were glad we came! For one brief shining moment, the hazy scene on a glittery Christmas card came to life before my eyes, so quaint and true and unforgettable.

Happy Irish Christmas!
[See also Dublin & Dubliners]

Maynooth University in Wintertime

The Roost in Summertime

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