Tuesday, December 23, 2008

A Yuletide Salmagundi

Things I saw and heard three days before Christmas:

The Salvation Army bell-ringer in front of the grocery whistling “That’s Amore.” For that I gave him a dollar.

A foil-wrapped box of chocolates strewn about our ice-covered street. Two crows tossed aside the paper wrappers and pecked at the frozen candies.

My barber, a native of Thailand, booked for a Christmas visit to Las Vegas, where it snowed this week. “Don’t they think of the tourists?” she asked.

My car stuck on the ice across from the barber shop. One of the two men who helped me push it, a native of Rumania, took the tire chains off his car and put them on mine. He had no gloves and his hands turned ham-colored as his 13-year-old daughter stood by and watched. When I shook them they were icy (for which he apologized), and he said, “Enjoy the rest of your Merry Christmas.”

Nige’s fine seasonal post on Monday which included Geoffrey Hill’s “Offertorium: December 2002” from Without Title. Nige rightly calls it “a lovely, even consoling December poem.” The next poem in the collection is “Epiphany in Hurcott,” a somber, oblique, wintry observance of Epiphany, January 6, which my Irish grandmother called “Little Christmas.” Our Ukrainian neighbors celebrated their Christmas that day. Here is Hill’s poem:

“Profoundly silent January shows up
clamant with colour, greening in fine rain,
luminous malachite of twig-thicket and bole
brightest at sundown.

“On hedge-banks and small rubbed bluffs the red earth,
dampened to umber, tints the valley sides.
Holly cliffs glitter like cut anthracite.
The lake, reflective, floats, brimfull, its tawny sky.”

Clamant following “Profoundly silent” is typical Hill wordsmithing. It means noisy or clamorous, from the Latin clamare, “to cry out.” “Clamant with colour” is Hillian synesthesia. Read the poem aloud and give your mouth a Christmas present.

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