Category Archives: Poetry

A Child of the Snows

I stopped at the grocery store on my way home tonight. The girl at the cash register asked me how I was, and I said fine, how are you?

“I’m great,” she said with a smile. “Santa’s coming in about three days!”

Then she went on to tell me how she’d watched “Miracle on 34th Street” (the classic version) with a friend last night. The friend had never seen it before. Imagine that, she said.

That was enough to bring a smile even to my face.

On consideration, I suspect she told me all this because of my resemblance to Edmund Gwenn.

This will probably be my last post for a few days. I generally can’t be troubled to post on weekends, and I’ll be spending Monday (and maybe Tuesday too) down in Iowa with Moloch and his family.

So I wish you all a merry, blessed Christmas.

Special thanks to everyone who’s sent me fan mail (I’ve gotten a couple particularly nice e-mails recently). As long as someone, somewhere, is still reading my novels and enjoying them, it’s almost as if I were still alive.

My Christmas card to you is this poem from G. K. Chesterton:

A Child of the Snows

There is heard a hymn when the panes are dim,

And never before or again,

When the nights are strong with a darkness long,

And the dark is alive with rain.

Never we know but in sleet and in snow,

The place where the great fires are,

That the midst of the earth is a raging mirth

And the heart of the earth a star.

And at night we win to the ancient inn

Where the child in the frost is furled,

We follow the feet where all souls meet

At the inn at the end of the world.

The gods lie dead where the leaves lie red,

For the flame of the sun is flown,

The gods lie cold where the leaves lie gold,

And a Child comes forth alone.

Lutefisk Lament

It all changed today.

Yesterday it was just cold. Today it’s Father Christmas Land. We have a nice carpet of snow on the ground, and we’ve also got that photogenic ice-coating over all the tree branches, making everything look like crystal. Wonderful to look at, as long as the powerlines don’t get overloaded, plunging you into a blackout.

First it rained. It rained pretty hard, which isn’t a bad thing after our dry fall (except for what it does to the street surfaces).

Then it turned to snow. Big, clotted flakes, like crumbled Styrofoam dropped out of a sack. That went on for a while, then diminished and stopped. We’re supposed to get a few more inches in the next few days.

Almost like the movie “White Christmas,” except that it didn’t happen on Christmas Eve. Pretty close though. I haven’t polled any children, but I suspect they’re pleased.

I’m going to talk to you about lutefisk.

The legend of lutefisk is that it’s an inedible Scandinavian delicacy, deadly to smell and disgusting to eat. Sort of comparable to 100 Year Old Eggs and live monkey brains.

This is an example of Scandinavian overcompensation. Lutefisk really isn’t that bad. It’s a product made of dried codfish, rendered in lye and washed in water, then boiled for eating. It has a strong, fishy smell when you cook it, and tastes extremely bland when you eat it. Its consistency, if cooked right, is closer to jello than anything else I can think of. It’s an odd food, and most people who didn’t grow up with it don’t care for it much. It helps to eat it with plenty of melted butter (for Norwegians) or cream sauce (for Swedes). But all the moaning is highly exaggerated.

I don’t care much for it myself, but my dad loved it, as did his parents and grandparents. Sometimes we make it for Christmas just for the sake of tradition. I doubt if the next generation will eat it at all, after we’re gone.

My favorite lutefisk tribute is the following poem. It can be found in a number of places on the internet, and most of the sites attribute it to either Boone & Erickson (a team of Twin Cities radio announcers who recorded it years back) or “Anonymous.” The actual author is a man named Dan Freeburg, who copyrighted it in 1978 but seems to have given up on enforcing it. Well, he’ll get credit here, by golly.

LUTEFISK LAMENT

‘Twas the day before Christmas, with things all a bustle.

As Mama got set for the Christmas Eve tussle.

Aunts, uncles, and Cousins would soon be arriving,

With stomachs all ready for Christmas Eve dining.

While I sat alone with a feeling of dread,

As visions of lutefisk danced in my head.

The thought of the smell made my eyeballs start burning.

The thought of the taste set my stomach to churning.

For I’m one of those who good Swedes rebuff,

A Scandahoovian boy who can’t stand the stuff.

Each year, however, I played at the game,

To spare Mama and Papa the undying shame.

I must bear up bravely. I can’t take the risk,

Of relatives knowing I hate lutefisk.

Then out in the yard I heard such a clatter.

I jumped up to see what was the matter.

There in the snow, all in a jumble,

Three of my uncles had taken a tumble.

From out in the kitchen an odor came stealing,

That fairly set all of my senses to reeling.

The smell of the lutefisk crept down the hall,

And wilted a plant in a pot on the wall.

Uncles Oscar and Lars said “Oh, that smells yummy,”

And Kermit’s eyes glittered while he patted his tummy.

Mama announced dinner by ringing a bell.

They rushed to the table with a whoop and a yell.

I lifted my eyes to heaven and sighed,

And a rose on the wallpaper withered and died.

Then Mama came proudly with a bowl on a trivet.

You would have thought the crown jewels were in it.

She set it down gently and then took her seat.

And Papa said grace before we could eat.

It seemed to me, in my whirling head,

The shortest of prayers he ever had said.

Then Mama raised the cover on that steaming dish,

And I had to face the quivering fish.

The plates were passed for Papa to fill,

While I waited in agony, twixt fever and chill.

He dipped in the spoon and held it up high,

As it oozed to plates, I thought I would die.

Then it came to my plate, and to my fevered brain.

There seemed enough lutefisk to derail a train.

It looked like a mountain of congealing glue,

Yet oddly transparent and discolored in hue.

With butter and cream sauce I tried to conceal it,

I salted and peppered, but the smell would reveal it.

I drummed up my courage, tried to be bold,

Mama reminds me, “Eat before it gets cold.”

Deciding to face it, “Uffda,” I sighed.

“Uffda, indeed,” my stomach replied.

Then summoning the courage for which we are known,

My hand took the fork as with a mind of its own.

And with reckless abandon the lutefisk I ate,

Within 20 seconds, I’d cleaned up my plate.

Uncle Kermit flashed me an ear-to-ear grin,

As butter and cream sauce dripped from his chin.

Then to my great shock, he spoke in my ear,

“I’m sure glad that’s over for another year.”

It was then that I learned a great wonderful truth,

That Swedes and Norwegians from old men to youth,

Must each pay their dues to have the great joy,

Of being known as a good Scandahoovian boy,

And so to tell you all, as you face the great test,

“Happy Christmas to you, and to you all my best.”

Song of a grumpy dwarf

(I don’t write poetry often. Mostly because mine stinks.)

Who needs wizards or witches? I told them all myself

Back at the start. The story front to back.

Well, not the part about the apple. That

Gave even me a shock.

But in the end

It worked out as I warned them.

Princesses! What matters it to dwarfs

How ladies live or die? No princess ever born

Would spend a sigh on any dwarf that lives. Oh,

She might laugh to see

Us trudging up the street

Or spare a moment’s pity.

But in our sagging cottage? To bring a princess in

Is to shift all. Her beauty makes our home

A donkey’s stall. The brush, the broom, the soap

And paint are not enough.

She calls it good,

But dreams of silk and marble.

You think a princess born would be content to bide

In this rude shed? With seven ugly half-men?

When in her head a thousand ballads cry

To fetch her to her own?

You cannot hold

An eaglet in an anthill.

Oh, you may dream in secret things unspoken;

Dwarfs are Ygg’s worms. Sight is not enough.

We yearn to swarm. We lust to hold and touch

The buttery weight of gold,

The silver star,

Or any other heart-sweet.

And now she’s gone. The tall one came and pinched her

Just as I reckoned. Now our house is vast,

And vastly vacant. Spiders drape in corners.

Dust drifts in cupboards.

Dishes welter.

And washing would remind us.

Tomorrow shall be my dancing day

We are singing this traditional carol in our Christmas concert this month:

Tomorrow shall be my dancing day;

I would my true love did so chance

To see the legend of my play,

To call my true love to my dance;

Chorus

Sing, oh! my love, oh! my love, my love, my love,

This have I done for my true love

Then was I born of a virgin pure,

Of her I took fleshly substance

Thus was I knit to man’s nature

To call my true love to my dance. Chorus

In a manger laid, and wrapped I was

So very poor, this was my chance

Betwixt an ox and a silly poor ass

To call my true love to my dance. Chorus

Happy Thanksgiving

from the Academy of American Poets, At the Common Table: Poems for Thanksgiving.

Oh, greenly and fair in the lands of the sun,

The vines of the gourd and the rich melon run,

And the rock and the tree and the cottage enfold,

With broad leaves all greenness and blossoms all gold,

Like that which o’er Nineveh’s prophet once grew,

While he waited to know that his warning was true,

from “The Pumpkin” by John Greenleaf Whittier

“The murmuring pines and the hemlocks, bearded with moss”

THIS is the forest primeval. The murmuring pines and the hemlocks,

Bearded with moss, and in garments green, indistinct in the twilight,

Stand like Druids of eld, with voices sad and prophetic,

Stand like harpers hoar, with beards that rest on their bosoms.

Loud from its rocky caverns, the deep-voiced neighboring ocean

Speaks, and in accents disconsolate answers the wail of the forest.

This is the forest primeval; but where are the hearts that beneath it

Leaped like the roe, when he hears in the woodland the voice of the huntsman?

Where is the thatch-roofed village, the home of Acadian farmers,—

Men whose lives glided on like rivers that water the woodlands,

Darkened by shadows of earth, but reflecting an image of heaven?

Waste are those pleasant farms, and the farmers forever departed!

Scattered like dust and leaves, when the mighty blasts of October

Seize them, and whirl them aloft, and sprinkle them far o’er the ocean.

Naught but tradition remains of the beautiful village of Grand-Pré.

Ye who believe in affection that hopes, and endures, and is patient,

Ye who believe in the beauty and strength of woman’s devotion,

List to the mournful tradition, still sung by the pines of the forest;

List to a Tale of Love in Acadie, home of the happy.

from Longfellow’s beautiful, sad poem, “Evangeline.”

I can’t help of think of words like this when I walk in the Great Smokey Mountains or even some of the beautiful trails around Lookout and Signal Mountains. They have captured my imagination, which is an important point to remember when buying Christmas presents for your children.

What we read, do, and play with as children form our imagination, developing our ideas of ourselves and the world: heros and who they are, villans and why they do what they do, how we define “happily ever after.” Do our little girls believe they are beautiful just as they are? Do our little boys believe they capable of anything God wants them to do? Our Christmas celebrations help them understand these things.

Hymn Sung to “Kingsfold”

I love this hymn, written by a Quaker teacher in 1906, sung to a traditional English tune called “Kingsfold.”

I feel the winds of God today; today my sail I lift,

Though heavy, oft with drenching spray, and torn with many a rift;

If hope but light the water’s crest, and Christ my bark will use,

I’ll seek the seas at His behest, and brave another cruise.

It is the wind of God that dries my vain regretful tears,

Until with braver thoughts shall rise the purer, brighter years;

If cast on shores of selfish ease or pleasure I should be;

Lord, let me feel Thy freshening breeze, and I’ll put back to sea.

If ever I forget Thy love and how that love was shown,

Lift high the blood red flag above; it bears Thy Name alone.

Great Pilot of my onward way, Thou wilt not let me drift;

I feel the winds of God today, today my sail I lift.

The choir in my church was to sing an arrangement of this song today, and I could have joined them if I wasn’t with my sweet wife having another little girl. We had prayed for an easy delivery of our fourth daughter, and we received it. Thank the Lord. The next day after we returned home, my wife felt a hardening in her leg with some pain when she drew back her toes–a potential blood clot in the leg most afflicted with varicose veins during pregnancy. We called her midwife and obeyed the summons to the emergency room downtown. A five-hour wait to be admitted to a labor room upstairs for another uncomfortable night on a hospital bed for my good, good wife who only wanted to recoup her strength from carrying and delivering the baby.

But I am able to write you tonight because we have returned home. Thank the Lord. The symptoms in her leg were not a serious blood clot, though maybe asuperficial one treatable with heat and aspirin. We can rest at home without blood thinners and monitoring. The Lord saw us through the drenching spray of a rough sea, and will continue his faithfulness as we raise our daughters I have no doubt. Now, to bed.

Longfellow’s “A Psalm of Life”

What the Heart of the Young Man Said to the Psalmist

TELL me not, in mournful numbers,

Life is but an empty dream!—

For the soul is dead that slumbers,

And things are not what they seem.

Life is real! Life is earnest!

And the grave is not its goal;

Dust thou art, to dust returnest,

Was not spoken of the soul.

Not enjoyment, and not sorrow,

Is our destined end or way;

But to act, that each to-morrow

Find us farther than to-day.

Art is long, and Time is fleeting,

And our hearts, though stout and brave,

Still, like muffled drums, are beating

Funeral marches to the grave.

Read the rest of this by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow.

A hypocrite’s pretty much like a prude, right?

Today Gene Edward Veith at Cranach blogged on the point (which I’ve brought up myself here) that in our society today all crimes, however vile, are considered preferable to hypocrisy. In theory the modern American thinks that a man who struggles in the privacy of his soul with a besetting sin like drunkenness is a hypocrite, and therefore far more to be condemned than a mass murderer, providing the mass murderer commits his crime in public, before the eyes of all.

In my comment I referenced a poem of Ogden Nash’s, which seemed to me prophetic. I’ll post the poem here. This version comes from the collection Verses From 1929 On, published by Modern Library.

THE STRANGE CASE OF THE IRKSOME PRUDE

Once upon a time there was a young man named Harold Scrutiny.

*

Harold had many virtues and practically no vices.

*

He smoked, to be sure.

*

Also he drank and swore.

*

Moreover, he was a pickpocket.

*

But, for all that, Harold was no prude.

*

I am no prude, Harold often said.

*

But Detective Guilfoyle of the Pickpocket Squad is a prude, the old prude, said Harold.

*

One day Harold went into the subway to pick some pockets.

*

There was a man on the platform penciling a beard on the lady on the toothpaste placard.

*

Hey, said Harold.

*

Hey who, said the man.

*

Hey you, that’s hey who, said Harold.

*

Aren’t you going to give her a moustache?

*

Sure I’m going to give her a moustache, said the man.

*

What do you think I am?

*

I think you’re somebody that puts beards on ladies on toothpaste placards before they put on the moustache, said Harold.

*

Don’t you know enough to put the moustache on first?

*

You put the moustache on first, why then you can turn it up or turn it down, whichever you want, said Harold.

*

You try to turn a moustache down after the beard’s on, it runs into the beard, said Harold.

*

It don’t look like a moustache, only like a beard grows up and down both.

*

Go on, said the man, go on and pick some pockets.

*

Harold turned to his work, but his mind was elsewhere.

*

Suddenly the lady on the toothpaste placard got off the toothpaste placard and arrested him.

*

It was Detective Guilfoyle of the Pickpocket Squad all the time.

*

You got a beard grows up and down both, said Harold.

*

Detective Guilfoyle searched Harold.

*

He certainly was surprised at what he found.

*

So was Harold.

*

Harold hadn’t picked any pockets at all because his mind was elsewhere.

*

He had picked a peck of pickled peppers.

*

Detective Guilfoyle wanted to call Harold a name, but he couldn’t because he was a prude.

*

Harold picked his pocket and later became the smokingest swearingest, drinkingest Assistant District Attorney the county ever had.

*

Don’t be a prude.

The Typographical Error

I’ve been researching the history of my organization, CBMC (I’m a designer at the national service center). We put out a magazine for decades called CBMC Contact, and I found this poem on the back cover of a 1952 issue. It’s cute, and cute things should be blogged (within certain strict guidelines).

The Typographical Error

The typographical error is a slippery thing and sly;

You can hunt til you are dizzy, but it somehow will get by.

Til the forms are off the presses, it is strange how still it keeps;

It shrinks down in a corner and it never stirs or peeps.

That typographical error, too small for human eyes,

Til the ink is on the paper, when it grows to mountain size.

The boss, he stares with horror, then he grabs his hair and groans;

The copyreader drop his head upon his hands and moans–

The remainder of the issue may be clean as clean can be,

But the typographical error is the only thing you see.

W.C. Winslow

Hymn: Our Salvation

I put these words to a 15th Century hymn tune, which is often sung as “Sing We Now of Christmas.” You can listen to a good midi version through that link. I also found part of it sampled from this choral album. It has that beautifully ancient quality I admire in many hymns.

Our Salvation

Glory to our God who reigns over everything.

He rebuilds our hearts to give us mind to sing

Of Him, the I Am

Our hope in heaven’s Lamb,

His redemptive choice, and eternal blessing.

The Lord gives His blessing to all who receive

By the mouth confessing, by the heart believe

That Jesus is Lord

And from the grave restored,

That all who come believing may His life receive.

To Love’s gracious call we could not answer then;

For as Adam’s children, we were dead in sin.

But Jesus, our Lord,

Had chosen us before

He set the planets spinning in the solar wind.

A Psalm for Violent Times

A Psalm of David, when he fled from Absalom his son.

O LORD, how many are my foes!

Many are rising against me;

many are saying of my soul,

there is no salvation for him in God. Selah

But you, O LORD, are a shield about me,

my glory, and the lifter of my head.

I cried aloud to the LORD,

and he answered me from his holy hill. Selah

I lay down and slept;

I woke again, for the LORD sustained me.

I will not be afraid of many thousands of people

who have set themselves against me all around.

Arise, O LORD!

Save me, O my God!

For you strike all my enemies on the cheek;

you break the teeth of the wicked.

Salvation belongs to the LORD;

your blessing be on your people! Selah

(Psalm 3, English Standard Version)

Nicer Children If Possible

I love these lines from an Aline Kilmer poem:

When people inquire I always just state:

“I have four nice children and hope to have eight.

Though the first four are pretty and certain to please,

Who knows but the rest may be nicer than these?”

Even if they aren’t nicer, they will be my children, and I will love them better, I hope, than I have in the past.