Saturday, December 26, 2015

December 26: Literary Ambience, Ghosts of the Past, Joseph Brodsky, "Christmas 1963," Confessions of Saint Marty

Surprising himself--surprising everybody--Ives had, as he promised, booked the tickets.  All arranged, it seemed a dream, their journey to begin and end in London, and taking them to Ireland, Scotland, and other parts.  They went by rail and by car in September, when the weather was mild.  Interested in the literary ambience, she planned to soak up the atmosphere and allow it to influence her readings of Fielding, Smollett, and Dickens, whose books she brought along.  And she had been working on a children's biography of Dickens, which she hoped Ives might illustrate, so part of their plan was to make like tourists, and the other to go about with sketchbooks and diary, and to absorb the spirit of those places like young students.  They were happy, buoyant--"ghosts," as it were, finally, it seemed, to be left behind them.

Ives, near the end of his life, finally tries to move forward, to break away from his haunted past.  The spirit of Charles Dickens guides the trip, as they visit museums and stores, gawk at architecture and art.  For lovers of literary and art, it's a perfect trip, filled with the ghosts of Ebenezer Scrooge and Samuel Pickwick.  It makes them feel young again.  Passionate for each other and for life again.

Last night, my daughter's friend who's a boy arrived at our home.  After a relaxing day of presents and food and cookies, we settled into our couch and watched It's A Wonderful Life, which neither my daughter or her friend had ever seen completely.  It was a lovely way to end Christmas, with one of my favorite movies on the television and two young people sitting next to me, texting and laughing.  After the kind of haunted year I've had, yesterday felt normal.  Grounded and joyful.

I'm sitting at McDonald's right now, staring out the windows.  There's supposed to be snow coming our way.  From the different reports I've read, my little corner of the Upper Peninsula might be receiving anywhere from one to six inches of white Christmas.  In a couple of hours, I'm going to head to the local Target to buy Christmas cards for next year.  I used to do that every year with my sister who recently passed.  She would load up on Christmas wrapping paper and cards and holiday candy.  Then we'd sometimes go to Red Lobster for lunch.

It's difficult shaking off the ghosts of the past.  Every corner I turn, every song I hear, every cookie I eat calls to mind memories of Christmases past.  It's inevitable this time of year.  Impossible to avoid.  I find some comfort in these memories.  But they also make me a little sad.  Like the lyrics to Irving Berlin's "White Christmas," when the snow starts falling, I dream of ones I used to know.  That melancholy is as much a part of the holiday experience as Rudolph the Red-nosed Reindeer and Frosty the Snowman.

Over the next week, I will be thinking a lot about ghosts.  Come December 31, when the balloons and crepe paper are hanging, they will be all around me, waving their arms, blowing their horns.

On New Year's Eve, Saint Marty will raise a glass to these phantoms.  Drink a little with them.  Thank them for the happy times of the past.  And look forward to the happy times of the future.

Christmas 1963

by:  Joseph Brodsky

The magi had come. The infant soundly slept.
The star shone brightly from the vaulted sky.
A cold wind swept the snow up into drifts.
The sand rustled. A bonfire crackled nearby.
Smoke plumed skyward. Flames hooked and writhed.
The shadows cast by the fire grew now shorter,
now suddenly longer. No one there yet realized
that on that very night life’s count had started.
The magi had come. The infant soundly slept.
Steep arches loomed above the manger.
Snow swirled about. White steam rose in wisps.
With gifts piled near him, the child slept like an angel.

Confessions of Saint Marty

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