Wednesday, December 24, 2008

A Christmas Poem

It's Christmas Eve, so Fosco will take a couple day break from postings on his NYC trip. For your Christmas reading (or listening), allow Fosco to offer you a poem. The poem is "On This Side Nothing" (2002) by Jennifer Moxley. It's somewhat difficult, but it captures well the ambivalences one feels at this time of year.

To all of you loyal readers: Merry Christmas, my friends.

The objects have gone quiet. Even old
Mister Unicorn has run out of words,
despite his painted red lips. Things inured
to emptiness continue with their cold
busyness. And thus the flurry of cash
around the center silence still appears
charitable tinsel, bright with the solace
of distress, the joy of being in arrears
so much more joyful than other joys. Songs
unlike a virus have grown in this season
of record rare, they sound an echo long
in repose and leave conflicted reason
to its bafflement. Things couldn’t be worse,
or could, we could resist, or complacent
argue against resistance, neither course
puts change at risk. Though we lay adjacent
the cold garden wall and exquisitely sigh
it will come, freed perhaps of our compelling
but nevertheless compelled. It’s well-nigh
Christmas, snow covers the ground and is falling.
the thirsty birds have re-opened our hands:
though weary of ritual tending we deck
the house yet again, reenact the ends
of long antiquated customs, rectify
the aggressive apathy that binds us
to our friends. To what design? What lie lies
hidden in an ornament, in a truss
of tissue snug in a box? An old idea
forced into perverted service of the new
makes strange commerce of this cold affection
enfoiled in childish fables, a revenue
of hope out of the heart’s aphasic diction.
And if it prove false, at least daily labor
will feel refreshed in the wake of leisure.
The bonvivant who repeats “love thy neighbor”
does no harm, and Tennyson’s sad measure
of years since we last saw our friend can bring
to mind a loss reduced from one December
to the next, a comfort and reminder
that we are at worst, on this side, nothing,
and risk nothing, to fight against and yet
not cut the feeling from our breast in queer
penance to a blundering world, to split
the will in two, to tell the truth, to fear
defeat, etc. The thought-ruined things
have done their work to keep our sentiment
in trust, though now we know we raised the scene
neither for ourselves nor for the love of it,
but out of some mislaid duty to form—
a table, a ribbon, a set of rules—
to adjust the love of a furious home,
but do not think we were born to be fools
or bred to thoughtless and false happiness,
given our time’s caution and your kind lash
it has never been easy for us to say yes.

[Listen to Jennifer Moxley read this poem live here.]

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