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Poem: "Keep Our Christmas Merry Still" - The Wordsmith's Forge
The Writing & Other Projects of Elizabeth Barrette
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Poem: "Keep Our Christmas Merry Still"

This poem came out of the December 3, 2013 Poetry Fishbowl.  It was inspired by prompts from technoshaman, aldersprig, and ellenmillion.  It also fills the "passion" square on my 11-26-13 card for the Origfic Bingo fest.  This poem has been sponsored by technoshaman.  It belongs to the series Polychrome Heroics.




Keep Our Christmas Merry Still

Clarity

For me, Christmas begins with lists:
addresses for greeting cards,
names for gift shopping,
things to pack for a trip.

The class schedule for next semester
is neatly outlined in the calendar,
days blocked out for Christmas break
between now and then.

I appreciate the vacation,
but the holiday just doesn't mean the same
to me as it does to other people.


Maze

Christmas is no less crowded
than Thanksgiving, although
the mix is a little different.

Aunt Dolores and Uncle Edgar
are here again, but Lynn and Kim
have gone to visit Kim's family instead.
My cousin Lucio has come with his wife Gina,
bringing my nephew Marcell and niece Mimi.
The four-year-old twins get into everything,
trying to find their presents early.

I used to love Christmas,
but this year it seems flat somehow --
the decorations less shiny,
the crèche just one more thing
for the kids to play with.


Mira

It's the decorations that draw me out,
yard after yard of garlands and tinsel,
mirrored ornaments on the tree
and holly wreaths on every door.

I hang the mistletoe,
put the angel on the tree,
and cut paper snowflakes
for Marcell and Mimi who are
still too young to play with scissors.

They get into one of the gift closets
but I fill it with illusions of mops and buckets
before they see anything they shouldn't.

I help with the wrapping,
roll after roll of colorful paper,
bags overflowing with ribbons and bows.
I love making everything look just right.

Sometimes I worry about Maze and Clarity,
who don't seem to be having much fun,
but I can have enough fun to share with everyone --
oh, and it's time to do the Christmas cookies
with silver balls and snowflake sugar!


Maze

I go to church because it's expected,
but nothing feels right anymore
and it's not what I remember.

It all seems pointless,
after all the crap that's happened this year,
and I can't help thinking about college
with the people I know there,
wondering if some supervillain
is going to shoot up the place while I'm away.

My family is here, though,
and I love them,
despite Russell kicking the pew
and driving me crazy.

It's good to be with people for the holidays.
I just wish it didn't have to be in church.
People keep giving me sidelong glances,
worried and disapproving, so maybe it shows.
I excuse myself to the bathroom.


Ham

"Let me out," I coax.
"You don't want this, and I do."

It's been so long since
I've come to church,
and I miss it.

"Come on," I say.
"I think in this situation,
I can fake being Maisie
better than you can."

Maze lets me come to the front,
and minch’ but I can't get out of the ladies' room
fast enough to suit me!

I settle into my seat and enjoy the service,
smooth warm words rolling over me
just as sweet as ever.

The stained-glass windows glimmer,
candlelight dancing over the colors,
and I know that Mira would like them.

Bittersweet incense hangs in the air,
the scent of frankincense and myrrh.
Those were gifts for the Christ child,
I recall, along with the gold.

The priest speaks about the difficulties
that Mary and Joseph faced
on the road to Bethlehem.

The cross catches my eye,
a sad reminder of His death
even as we celebrate His birth --

and then Keane is pushing at me,
wanting a turn up front.
Startled, I let him come.


Keane

I slip forward, softly,
not moving in body so that
no one will notice.

The crucifix is big and beautiful,
almost life-sized above the altar,
painted with bright colors --
there is purple for passion
among the white of His wrappings,
along with the red of blood.

This is a God I can get along with,
someone who understands suffering,
who can take pain and give it a purpose.

So much has happened this year
to me and my headmates
that it's hard to keep up,
hard to process everything.

Jesus knows what it's like to be torn up,
to try saving people only to find
that some of them can't or won't be saved,
and maybe it's blasphemy but I can't help thinking
a crown of thorns or a superhero's mask
might not be so different after all.

It's just another kind of passion.


Clement

When the priest comes to the part
about Mary giving birth in a stable,
I give Keane a gentle nudge
and he lets me out to listen.

This is the kind of thing I can relate to,
dealing with an emergency
in a place not at all suited to it,
doing the best you can with what you have.

The Bible doesn't mention much,
but there are other sources --
the Infancy Gospel of James
with Salome and another midwife,
and a painting of "Mary and the Midwives"
in which two black women give comfort --
so I know I'm not the only one
who thinks about these things.

While the Three Wise Men
were bringing gifts fit for a king,
there must have been women
bringing gifts fit for a baby
and a nervous new mother:
the swaddling clothes and diapers,
hot water, a fresh dress,
and something to eat.

God is a little too abstract for me,
but give me Mary and her midwives,
and I can make sense of that,
see why Jesus turned out to be
such a healer and so determined
to help the downtrodden.


Clarity

The house is full of chaos,
with the twins climbing over everything,
Uncle Edgar clearly intoxicated
and Aunt Dolores trying to keep him
away from the rest of the eggnog.

Lucio finally corrals the kids on the couch,
and Gina reads them a story
about "The Littlest Angel."

I look up at the top of the Christmas tree
where the angel perches, a porcelain doll
wrapped in white satin and gold ribbon,
a beaded halo crowning her upswept hair
framed by wings of genuine feathers.
She holds a light in each hand
to guide the way.

I think people overdo it with personification
of numinous forces.  Some things
aren't meant to be understood.

Idly I flip through another book
that Gina has left on the coffee table,
a full-color guide to angels.

One entry in particular intrigues me --
Metatron, the heavenly scribe,
whose name means "beyond the matrix."
He sits before the throne of God,
outside the ranks of the other angels,
mysterious and powerful.

If God is transcendent,
beyond mortal comprehension,
it's no wonder that people seek
other images to admire.
Not everyone is as comfortable
as I am with abstractions.

Reading further, I discover that
Metatron is the guardian of the Tree of Life,
who helps people discover their spiritual powers,
learn how to use them and make the world a better place.

I can't help laughing:
he's the angel of superheroes.


Maze

It's quieter now, although Russell
is beeping away on a handheld game.
Anna leafs through the angel book
that Gina left on the coffee table.
I can hear my parents in the kitchen,
talking over plans for the New Year.

Marcell and Mimi have conked out on the couch,
their tired parents flanking them like bookends,
and I can't blame them -- Christmas is exhausting.

I love my family, but sometimes
it's hard to be with them,
when the inside of me
is such a jumble.

I slip away to the bedroom.
Hopefully no one will miss me.


Mira

I tiptoe through our inner space,
knocking on each of the doors --
Clarity's white with its clear crystal knob,
Maze's warm wood with a real brass maze
holding the security chain in place,
and all the rest.

"Come on," I urge.  "It's Christmastime
and we're family too -- we should be together.
Everyone gather in the living room."

It's a space that Clement made for us,
so that we could talk things out
instead of being stuck in our own rooms.
Even though I didn't create this place,
it's still part of the house that is my head,
so I can influence it if I concentrate.

I turn around so I can see their faces
as they spot the new addition to the room,
and it's worth it -- surprise and joy --
as they all crowd around it.

The Christmas tree is small.
It's not covered in tinsel and ornaments,
topped with an angel or a star,
nor surrounded by a pile of presents.

Its only decoration is tiny points of light,
shimmering through a slow change of colors
like sunlight on new-fallen snow.

Something simple.
Something we can all share.

Before I know it,
we're all holding hands
around the little Christmas tree.

"Okay," says Keane,
"I feel better now,"
and everyone nods.

No matter how cold the winter gets
or how sharp the wind that cuts,
we'll keep our Christmas merry still.

* * *

Notes:

The title comes from this quote:
Heap on the wood! -- the wind is chill;
But let it whistle as it will,
We'll keep our Christmas merry still
.
-- Sir Walter Scott

Clarity experiences the holidays through organization.  If you don't have a Clarity, try a Christmas planner.

Depression or spiritual drought can make the holidays fall flat.  Maze is upset because she expects things to be like Maisie's memories, and they aren't anymore, because those feelings have gotten divided up amongst the headmates.  Maze has the family feelings, but she hasn't adjusted to the changes yet and doesn't fully realize this is "her" share of the festive appreciation.

A crèche is a nativity scene.  Small children often treat it as a Baby Jesus Playset.

Mira revels in the holiday trappings.  Decorating Christmas cookies is a popular family tradition including such delights as silver dragees and sparkling sugar.

Minch’ is Italian slang for "wow."

Ham enjoys church as a community and place of worship, as well as a spiritual experience.  There are tips for getting the most out of church.

Keane focuses on the passion of Christ, seeking common ground with an intimately personal concept of deity.  The intensity of his emotions shows as his attention snags on the bright purple for passion and red for blood.  Keane appreciates how Jesus understands pain, which helps him find meaning in suffering.

Clement concentrates on the event of childbirth central to Christmas, given his interest in healing.  There are indeed references to the midwife Salome helping Mary and JesusThe Gospel of the Infancy is real.  "Mary and the Midwives" is a painting; see a larger version.

"The Littlest Angel" is a famous story appearing in book and movie form, about the value of humanity and gifts from the heart.

Christmas angels are popular decorations.  Here is the one on Damask's family tree.

Metatron is a particularly enigmatic angel.  "Beyond the matrix" is just one possible translation for his name, and he has many duties.

Clarity conceives of God as abstract, transcendent, and mysterious.  That's too confusing for most people to grasp -- hence the popularity of more humanized versions -- but it works fine for Clarity.

This is Clarity's door within their shared headspace.

The tree in their internal living room resembles a fiber-optic Christmas tree.

technoshaman reminded me that the final scene touches on the same motifs as How the Grinch Stole Christmas, which you can read online, with regard to the meaning of Christmas.  Also worth considering is the role of restorative justice in that story, particularly in the context of a superhero whose powers encompass compassion and healing as much as combat.  I didn't know I was writing these bits when I wrote this poem, but there they are, and I have deep readers who can spot things like that.

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Comments
mdlbear From: mdlbear Date: December 7th, 2013 06:44 pm (UTC) (Link)
I especially loved Clement's section, with Mary and the midwives. That's an aspect of the story I hadn't encountered before.
ysabetwordsmith From: ysabetwordsmith Date: December 7th, 2013 06:48 pm (UTC) (Link)

Thank you!

>> I especially loved Clement's section, with Mary and the midwives. <<

I'm happy to hear that.

>> That's an aspect of the story I hadn't encountered before. <<

Same here. I was surprised by it, but historically, it makes sense.
mdlbear From: mdlbear Date: July 15th, 2014 04:10 am (UTC) (Link)
... and coming back to it (in the course of reading the whole series in order now) I very much like Mira and Clarity -- they seem like people I'd enjoy hanging out with.

Must be my computer wizard showing.
ysabetwordsmith From: ysabetwordsmith Date: July 15th, 2014 06:51 am (UTC) (Link)

Thank you!

>> ... and coming back to it (in the course of reading the whole series in order now) <<

Yay, I'm glad you found this worth reading all through.

>> I very much like Mira and Clarity -- they seem like people I'd enjoy hanging out with. <<

Sooth. I suspect that Clement would be my first choice, but Clarity is fascinating. I'd probably scare Mira.

>> Must be my computer wizard showing. <<

Likely so, common ground is a great attractor.
mdlbear From: mdlbear Date: July 15th, 2014 03:01 pm (UTC) (Link)

Re: Thank you!

Probably something of a Strange Attractor in my case.
ysabetwordsmith From: ysabetwordsmith Date: July 23rd, 2014 02:28 am (UTC) (Link)

Re: Thank you!

Agreed.

Dude, if you made a screensaver of that, you could mesmerize Antimatter with it.
mdlbear From: mdlbear Date: July 23rd, 2014 05:27 am (UTC) (Link)

Re: Thank you!

For a long time it was part of the X Windows screensaver collection; it seems to be missing now.
mdlbear From: mdlbear Date: July 23rd, 2014 05:35 am (UTC) (Link)

Re: Thank you!

Ah. Here's the *complete* collection of screenshots -- the strange attractor is called "flow".
thnidu From: thnidu Date: December 8th, 2013 05:48 am (UTC) (Link)
dragée: Thank you for the new-to-me word.

crèche: This reminds me of a story I heard from a friend, about one year when Chanukah came late and partly overlapped with Christmas. They exchanged visits with some Christian friends, and when they went to see how the kids were managing, they found them playing dreidel using the Nativity figures for coins! It was good fun for all.
ysabetwordsmith From: ysabetwordsmith Date: December 8th, 2013 06:19 am (UTC) (Link)

Thoughts

>> Thank you for the new-to-me word. <<

You're welcome!

>> This reminds me of a story I heard from a friend, about one year when Chanukah came late and partly overlapped with Christmas. They exchanged visits with some Christian friends, and when they went to see how the kids were managing, they found them playing dreidel using the Nativity figures for coins! It was good fun for all. <<

Aww, so cute! We were out shopping today and saw chocolate coins. They always make me think of Hanukkah gelt and stocking stuffers.
siege From: siege Date: December 10th, 2013 02:00 am (UTC) (Link)
The inclusion of Metatron caught my attention, so I looked up the articles you linked. I believe that the connection to Enoch is primarily mythical; Metatron is the "Guardian of God's Word" (and God's right-hand agent before Christ; his position is now at the left hand), and thus the most appropriate name origin is the "MMTR" mentioned in the Wikipedia article (translated Hebrew word meaning guardian or protector); the Greek reinterpretation of the name came later (but is appropriate in other ways -- "tron" as a suffix means "device/instrument", and Metatron is definitely the instrument of God's Will). An abstract image is important and useful for understanding that level of angel (technically a principality, which is above archangel in rank and duties), but without some connection to human form and needs, his/her work would be incomplete (the gender of Metatron is debatable, but could be said to be both and/or neuter at need).

Also, I particularly enjoyed the connection to this setting -- a patron angel of superheroes. Surely humanity in this world needs something like that now. :)

Edited at 2013-12-10 02:01 am (UTC)
ysabetwordsmith From: ysabetwordsmith Date: December 10th, 2013 08:39 am (UTC) (Link)

Thoughts

>> I believe that the connection to Enoch is primarily mythical; <<

That may well be true.

>> Metatron is the "Guardian of God's Word" (and God's right-hand agent before Christ; his position is now at the left hand), <<

Also possible.

>> and thus the most appropriate name origin is the "MMTR" mentioned in the Wikipedia article (translated Hebrew word meaning guardian or protector); the Greek reinterpretation of the name came later (but is appropriate in other ways -- "tron" as a suffix means "device/instrument", and Metatron is definitely the instrument of God's Will). <<

Without doing all the linguistic work myself, it's hard to tell which is more plausible. I liked "beyond the matrix," although I suspect it's not the best translation. But Clarity is reading out of a coffee table angel book, not a serious academic analysis; they tend to go with what sounds pretty.

>> An abstract image is important and useful for understanding that level of angel (technically a principality, which is above archangel in rank and duties), but without some connection to human form and needs, his/her work would be incomplete (the gender of Metatron is debatable, but could be said to be both and/or neuter at need). <<

The indeterminate gender is another parallel for them.

>> Also, I particularly enjoyed the connection to this setting -- a patron angel of superheroes. Surely humanity in this world needs something like that now. :) <<

Yay! That just popped into my head when I read the description.
lb_lee From: lb_lee Date: December 13th, 2013 03:30 am (UTC) (Link)
Dawwww. Mira's adorable.

--Rogan
ysabetwordsmith From: ysabetwordsmith Date: December 13th, 2013 03:37 am (UTC) (Link)

Yay!

I'm happy to hear that. Each of the headmates wound up with a different set of skills and interests. Mira is visually oriented, so she focuses on things like wrapping and tinsel ... but she also understands how the sight of familiar things can ground or unite people.
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