Music

Happy 100 Days: 13

Love and joy come to you
and to you your wassail, too.

“Only six more days until Christmas!” Bug tells me as he climbs into the back seat.
 
Holy cow. Six?
 
My kid has been with his dad since last Friday. We have three half-completed advent calendars in the house and a heap of gifts that may be opened before Christmas and maybe after, but certainly not on the day. Co-Parenting at the holidays is running a relay race: short bursts of lung-popping exertion following by periods of hyper-alert waiting. Now we have six days to get ourselves through the end of the school week, on a plane, and in place for Santa’s touchdown on a Dallas rooftop.
 
I guess it’s time to pull out the Christmas carols.
 
Joy of Christmas
 
The songbook we use belonged to my Grandmother. It was in the piano bench of the old upright she had in her Oklahoma living room. After she passed away and we sold the house, the piano made its way first to Colorado and eventually to upstate New York. There it stayed when our lives imploded and we had to cut and run. We sold it for $150 to the camp director who had just fired Tee. The contents of the bench were among the few items we salvaged. We made it here with several dog-eared hymnals and this yellowing book of carols.
 
Classical paintings of angels and virgins grace every other page. Most of the songs are truly Christian odes. No figgy pudding or “dashing through the snow.” This is all the red blood of Mary when the baby Jesus is born. Still, the tunes are swelling and sweet, and Bug loves to stay near me as I flip through the pages each year around this time. I sing bits of this and that until he hears something that strikes his fancy.
 
“That one!” he says.
 
Here we come a-wassailing among the leaves so green.
 
I sing the whole song through because all the lyrics are written out for me. I realize I have never made it past the first verse before. It is really a pretty silly thing, to sing about singing. I start giggling when I hear myself asking for the moldy cheese, and I can barely make it back around to the chorus.
 
“Do you know what wassail is, Buddy?”
 
“Nope.”
 
“Wassail is a warm, toasty beverage. It’s funny because the word also means singing for the drink. The carolers are asking for a cup of warm wassail in exchange for coming around in the cold and singing,” I tell him. We are cuddled up close in his bed. He is drawing an elaborate treehouse as I explain. “They are basically saying, ‘Here we come a-hot-cocoa-ing.’ It’s like trick-or-treating at Christmas.”
 
I sing on before catching the small-print explanation under the title. According to a this 40-year-old songbook, “wassail” originally was a Welsh greeting of well wishes. At some point people began to drink from a shared wassail horn for good cheer. That festive Christmas sense of communal celebration became synonymous with the drink itself. Of course, singing for wassail gave an additional layer of meaning to the word.
 
Imagine such a thing. A single word that means good wishes, shared celebration, yummy warm drink, and singing. How is it that six days before Christmas, we all aren’t just shouting this from the rooftops? Who needs “mindfulness” and “wellness” and “community”? Why would we subject ourselves to such sterile terms to capture our joy? We already have more than we need in this language right here.
 
Wassail!
 

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Foxhole

Down below the skin of things,
someone has prepared the soil,
spread the loam, drawn up hair
and root
for a bed. The mouth
of this subterranean bunker
lays its lips against sky, sipping
thin wisps, down
of feather, down
of cloud. Spooning
in that nest of damp debris:
a him
and a her.
 
She recalls the man who gave her a home
where she could die
in peace. Perhaps it never happened.
It is time to call back
the ghost from its powder
blue chair and beg,
beg
the long-dead grandmother
to shake off her slumber
and divulge the secret.
How to win such a man?
 
She would take a bully, a drunk,
a scoundrel,
a dunce,
as long as he gives her
that powder blue chair
and three square feet
of something like her own
place
to put it.
 
Ghosts take their secrets
seriously, it seems.
Grandmothers take theirs
to the grave.
 
Autumn arrives
out there. The blacksmith turns
the amber strip
around a stem, bashing the glare
with a hammer. Sparks
do not fly. Only breath, only smoke
from the fire.
He makes the unforgiving iron
bend to petal, to tissue.
A rose
plunged into the ice bath
hisses.
 
We become what we never thought we would be.
Finally,
we stop resisting.
Finally,
something gives.
 
Beauty
like birth
hurts.
 
The faraway mouth
of this cave
is nearer than it appears.
That pinprick of light
shivers
even wider while we squeeze
our eyes against it.
One pebble falls
then another.
 
Somewhere out there the future
clangs
like iron, like fire
in its relentless scuffle
with the past.
For the moment, we pretend
we cannot feel sand
skittering down our shoulders.
We feign sleep
for now,
for as long as our restless arms
allow.