cottage

WestWords Perfect Christmas Pair

There’s something about horses at Christmas.  It’s in the dark eyes I think, the stillness,Digital image the mix of warm breath and magic on a crisp winter morning.   I’m fortunate that wherever I’ve lived, there have always been horses nearby in fields or stables.  Being able to stand with them for a moment, rub their necks and manes or feed them carrots and apples, stirs something in my soul that I can’t explain.  It’s like entering a church or sacred place, there’s a spiritual hush that comes and takes you out of your own reality and puts you into the wild and earthy presence of something otherworldly.    Gorgeous creatures.

Digital imageI remember being snowed in one Christmas.  I lived in a cottage in the forest, about two hours drive away from family and friends and unable to travel, I spent a couple of days alone with my dog. Digital image On Christmas morning, we walked out through the Scots pine (ouch!) and fir, heavy with snow and reached a clearing at the top of the hill where my neighbours three horses were waiting. A mare, her yearling and a cheeky friend.  The animals touched noses and we all stood reading one another’s thoughts, lashes frosty in the wakening light.  The horses’ steaming breath on my hands, their snorting nostrils calming to slow inhalations, hooves prodding the frozen ground beneath, everything was sonorous with snow.  Later, thumbing through an anthology, I came across this poem by English poet Henry Shukman.  It was his attempt to write about his new born son.  His poems have appeared in The Guardian, The Times and The London Review Of Books and his first poetry collection, In Dr. No’s Garden, was published by Cape in 2003.  As a fiction writer he has published two novels, Sandstorm in 2006 and The Lost City which was a Guardian Book Of The Year.  I’ve paired it with the traditional folk carol Let Us The Infant Greet by Loreena McKennit, hope you enjoy it 🙂  Happy Christmas!  – Feliz Navidad! – Frohe Weihnacten! – Buon Natale! – Sona Nollag! – Kala Hristouyienna! – Joyeax Noel!

HORSES AT CHRISTMAS
By Henry Shukman

In our little house Creedence were singing
About the old cotton fields, the baby
Was flat on his back in front of the fire,
Eyes swimming with flame.
Christmas morning, and you were at church.
I thought of going to join you late,
But instead took the baby up to the horses.
Out in the field he started crying.
Maybe I should have taken him to the bath
Of stone, the discipline of a saviour, the sanctuary
Of hymns –

But the horses saved us.
To be close to them, so tough and nothing
To do with us, and their breathing all over him,
And the flaking mud on their necks
Where they had rolled, and the sucking of hooves
As they walked the sodden field.
The horses with their long heads,
Underwater eyes, watched us watch them.

Then they turned, drumming the field,
Leaving us alone – the damp morning
All about, the soaked grass under foot,
The baby’s diaphanous ears going pink in the cold
As silence bowed back to earth.

WestWords Perfect Pair

2064105440_0d89ff73cd_mAmerican poet, literary critic and academic Dick Allen was born in New York in 1939. His award winning poetry has appeared in journals including The New Yorker and The American Poetry Review, his collections include Present Vanishing: Poems (2008) and The Day Before: New Poems, 2003. Allen has also co-edited several science fiction anthologies, including Science Fiction: The Future (1971) and Looking Ahead (1975). He is currently serving a five-year term as poet laureate of the state of Connecticut from 2010 through to 2015. From The Day Before this is a stirring narrative and reminds me of an old cottage I used to holiday in in Conemara:

IF YOU GET THERE BEFORE I DO
By Dick Allen

Air out the linens, unlatch the shutters on the eastern side,
and maybe find that deck of Bicycle cards
lost near the sofa. Or maybe walk around
and look out the back windows first.
I hear the view’s magnificent: old silent pines
leading down to the lakeside, layer upon layer
of magnificent light. Should you be hungry,
I’m sorry but there’s no Chinese takeout,
only a General Store.
You passed it coming in,
but you probably didn’t notice its one weary gas pump
along with all those Esso cans from decades ago.
If you’re somewhat confused, think Vermont,
that state where people are folded into the mountains
like berries in batter. . . . What I’d like when I get there
is a few hundred years to sit around and concentrate
on one thing at a time. I’d start with radiators
and work my way up to Meister Eckhart,
or why do so few people turn their lives around, so many
take small steps into what they never do,
the first weeks, the first lessons,
until they choose something other,
beginning and beginning their lives,
so never knowing what it’s like to risk
last minute failure. . . . I’d save blue for last. Klein blue,
or the blue of Crater Lake on an early June morning.
That would take decades. . . . Don’t forget
to sway the fence gate back and forth a few times
just for its creaky sound. When you swing in the tire swing
make sure your socks are off. You’ve forgotten, I expect,
the feeling of feet brushing the tops of sunflowers:
In Vermont, I once met a ski bum on a summer break
who had followed the snows for seven years and planned
on at least seven more. We’re here for the enjoyment of it, he said,
to slalom into joy. . . . I expect you’ll find
Bibles scattered everywhere, or Talmud’s, or Qur’ans,
as well as little snippets of gospel music, chants,
old Advent calendars with their paper doors still open.
You might pay them some heed. Don’t be alarmed
when what’s familiar starts fading, as gradually
you lose your bearings,
your body seems to turn opaque and then transparent,
until finally it’s invisible–what old age rehearses us for
and vacations in the limbo of the Middle West.
Take it easy, take it slow.

When you think I’m on my way,
the long middle passage done,
fill the pantry with cereal, curry, and blue and white boxes of macaroni, place the
checkerboard set, or chess if you insist,
out on the flat-topped stump beneath the porch’s shadow,
pour some lemonade into the tallest glass you can find in the cupboard,
then drum your fingers, practice lifting your eyebrows,
until you tell them all — the sceptics, the bigots, blind neighbours,
those damn-with-faint-praise critics on their hobbyhorses–
that I’m allowed,
and if there’s a place for me that love has kept protected,
I’ll be coming, I’ll be coming too.