Friday, January 15, 2010

The Ghost of December Past

What a December! We at Jubilation Press printed a new broadside, "Vipassana," a poem by me (Derek Pyle). In addition to that, I was honored to read poems for two audiences, at Illahe Gallery and Studio, and at the Winter Farmhouse Salon with Jeff Pevar, Inger Jorgenson and Jaese Lecuyer. For the Salon, the night was cold and the moon was dark, but as we shared together song--in the mythic sense, poems count as "song"--we were warm. I opened the evening with this poem:

        Life river cold and foggy
        winter bite working its way,
        gets pinkie fingers and tips of ears

        but if we bring our voices to verses
        the clouds move from our rainy Northwest hearts
        bodies together call warmth,
        they sing warmth's song

        At the foggy banks
        we know leavening--
        bodies together we sing warm praise,
        all the loaves break open
        to hear the song.

 In writing this poem, I was inspired by one of William Stafford's journal entries (dated December 9, 1984, as found in a book of his work Every War Has Two Losers): "In the tunnels where they hid during bombings the Welsh would sing. No one outside could hear them. Their songs never silenced a plane. But in that rich darkness their music sounded so pure that a diamond formed in the soul." A warmth indeed.

As I searched for more information about the Welsh singing in the tunnels, I found another website with an article about the origins and wartime miracles of the German song we know as "Silent Night." Of the three stories I found, one is particularly famous; you may know it already. In 1914 during World War I the Germans and British fought fiercely, except on an especially cold night on December 24. That night, the German soldiers hung lights on small Christmas trees, then raised the trees for the British to see. From across the trenches, the Germans began singing "Stille Nacht," while the British sang "Silent Night." The enemies troops convened in the center of the battlefield, talking in broken languages and exchanging gifts. For a moment, the war stopped with a warmth beyond any cold weather. It was the warmth of the human heart, the warmth we so often find in song. This is the same warmth we found last December at the Farmhouse Salon--I especially liked Jeff's solo rendition of "Silent Night."

Have a warm winter filled with song and friends.