By Ellery Littleton. Ellery’s next program at The Haven is The Spirit Journal Intensive, May 14–18, 2015.
As unofficial Haven historical scribe, I want to offer a few words to the greater Haven family, as we all go through the solstice, Christmas, and New Year’s rituals. Some of us were lucky enough to be able to do so at Haven, where the spirit is so very alive and well at this time of the year.
I have been keeping a journal for decades and along the way, written many poems. Several of them are about Christmas, and I have chosen seven from that group to present here, except for the last one, which is about New Year’s.
I hope the poems capture something of the universal, and something of your own experience, perhaps a memory or a feeling about “a time when …” which you still carry and cherish.
Each poem is dated on the day it was written in a past December.
My mind wandered back to the balcony
of my memory this afternoon to the day
we chose the Christmas tree with my aunt,
cut it down and brought it back from the farm
in the sleigh, drawn by the old horse Dolly.
It took four men, including my father,
to haul the tree into the house and stand it
in the living room, next to the grand piano.
At the age of eleven, I could only watch
in awe and breathe the cold fragrant air,
a fresh heady tang of evergreen,
hard and sweet and clear.
Christmas songs on the radio carry me
back to the day fifty or so years ago when
I stood outside my school, important in
my safety patrol uniform, at the crosswalk
on Beaver Creek Road, silent and alone
for a blessed while in the magical snowfall,
weeping delicious crocodile tears,
singing to myself, “I saw mommy kissing Santa Claus.”
Coffee and cookies at my friend’s house.
We exchange Christmas cards and complain
about the weather. She weeps bitter tears
over the death of her father last spring,
regrets her broken marriage, misses her
ex-lover, now living with his mother.
We agree that life is full of swell surprises,
and oh well, there is still a lot to look
forward to and go on to talk about movies
and music and plans for the holidays.
First the star, then the lights,
followed by the wreaths, silver
and blue, and the sugar-frosted
balls and baubles. Finally, the tinsel
too is hung with care, and the lights
turned on. There! Isn’t that beautiful?
Is it only a year since we last stood here
staring like children at the Milky Way?
A polished red ornament hangs
on the tree, turning with the light
and the heat; images reflect like
memories in the crystalline heart
of a ruby. In the world of the red
ornament, continents walk by
on their way to the kitchen, and
oceans flow from room to room.
In the background, an entire
civilization sits down to dine,
then drives home under a new moon.
No big surprises this year,
but many small ones,
some quite exquisite,
like delicate Christmas
tree decorations, suspended
from the branches
of everyday life.
A day of nibbling at
Friends coming by
later this afternoon.
I’ll retreat, read my
new novel and have
a little snooze; always
a good idea before
wine and conversation.
It’s a tough life, I know.
Maybe that’s why
it’s not always fun.
We stay up late for us
and watch a movie.
Finally, at eleven or so,
my wife drifts off to bed,
and I crash in front of the
tube to watch the fireworks
around the world.
Soon, the neighborhood erupts
with screams and shouts;
music blares out briefly-open
doors and window, drunken
buffoons bellow at the midnight
moon. I step out on the front porch
for a minute or two as the old year
clatters by like a broken stagecoach,
smiling to myself, looking back,
looking ahead, full of wonder,
with a tremor of despair,
ready for bed at last.
Christmas is a time of gratitude, and this year, I am grateful for The Haven; grateful to Ben and Jock for having created such a unique and remarkable home for the spirit. And blessings upon those who keep the good ship Haven afloat and sailing in rocky seas – Rachel, the ED we were lucky to get, the staff, the faculty, the board, the many pilgrims who want to come alive, the generous benefactors who know a wonderful human investment when they experience it.
I am grateful that, due to a series of remarkable turns along the long and winding path, I found myself at Haven. I continue to find myself there; I hope you will too.