Monday, June 1, 2015

working witness

Today I paused at the top of the hill where the school stands, looking down over the nursery fields laid over the river flats like a banded quilt.   

Rows and rows of roses.  

I said this to my son and he repeated it delightedly.  We were like two birds, calling back and forth, claiming space for ourselves or just for the joy of the sound.  

Rows of rose in rows, he said again, his golden hands moving like birds, his dark eyes shining.  

We laughed.  Variation an intensification of delight.  After he had run inside to beat the bell, I stayed, watching the dark bundled forms of workers move through the fine drizzle, through the field of flowers.  

I try not to presume misery, nor content.  If I can,  I would always wait to hear from those whose story it is.

And though I can say this outside work in all weathers is some I've done for the next farm over and done with deep pleasure and occasional grumbling -- but only once a week and by choice and for only a year or two.  Hard work.  Not well paid.  With little legal protections, nor net of support.  But also good work, wholesome, honorable.  Which I sometimes think we have forgotten.  And which we too often dishonorably disdain. 

It was in itself a beautiful scene, the dark shapes moving across vivid bands of red and rose and pink and white.  Men and women who could be my son's aunts and uncles, long lost cousins.  I had paperwork to do with me and so sat, overlooking the flowered field, working at my own less fruitful work, glancing up from time to time, until when I glanced up there were no more workers.  

Where had they gone? Into the two small disused school buses? To another field?  The rows of roses were less interesting without them.

I turned back to my stack of papers.

And then glancing up  I saw a mother with her daughters coming from my son's school for some early appointment.  Smiles flashing, their dark shining heads bent towards each other, papers flapping in the wind from their hands.  As they passed in front of my window, the youngest, with a long black braid, thin and vivid as a bird, turned and stretching her hand high, waved, looking out over the field below.  She stretched to her utmost height, waving with all her might.  

Down below in the field, the bundled figures had re-emerged.

The bright-faced girl blazed with joy when one of them straightened and waved again up to her.  Her grin, the ecstatic intensification of her returning wave,  re-echoed in the even more emphatic waving arm below. 

The bridge they made between them, connecting field work and the hilltop school. 

And flaring up in me also a sudden hope, a bridging gratitude to have been a witness of this all.  My true work, as always, witnessing.

Saturday, January 10, 2015


Year 1066 (MLXVI) was a common year starting on Sunday of the Julian calendar. The year was a turning point in English history due to the Battle of Hastings and ensuing Norman conquest of England.

"I have to say, I love this."

"This?" my friend shrugs.

"It's so perfectly January."

She laughs.

"No, I love it.  The metal's so hard and icy and the vases empty.  And the little caged bird and the greeny blue eggs, everything's so contained," I am cupping one hand all around the other, "all ready to be served up on a tray.  It's perfect."

I'm not surprised.  Appreciative.  This friend runs a vintage shop.  Every month this space changes with the weather.  A nuanced commentary on the year's turning, a mingling of the past with the just about to happen.  It's not decoration, but installation, an exhibit you can walk around in, sit down in and talk.

Her laugh bubbles up, "Well, it wasn't on purpose.  I put it down here just before you came.  I was gathering things together for what I'm doing next."

Which is even more January.

As I should know.

1966 (MCMLXVI) was a common year starting on Saturday of the Gregorian calendar, the 1966th year of the Common Era (CE) and Anno Domini (AD) designations, the 966th year of the 2nd millennium, the 66th year of the 20th century, and the 7th year of the 1960s decade.

January's child,  I can still remember when I first realized the parties the neighbors' were having were not to celebrate my birthday.  I realized it, but didn't quite believe it until I was nearly grown.

Because the year and I have always come running in on the same day.

Maybe for anyone it's hard to believe at first that there was really anything happening before you happened.  Didn't the world start rolling only about fifty years ago?

All I know for sure is that 1968 may have been the watershed year for the rest of the world, a cultural turning point neatly cleaving modern history into Before and After, but 1966 was mine.  1066 was the fertile mingling of Anglo-Saxon Celt and Viking French that made my mother tongue.  1966 was the marriage and months that made me.

A morning or two after their January wedding

A year I never breathed a bit of.

My father spent it finishing his last year of a mechanical engineering degree.  My mother spent it working in the hospital, a medical clerk, collecting doctor's orders and keeping the patients' records organized.

It was the same hospital I would be born in.  It had only two floors back then.  She worked on the medical floor, or maybe it was surgical post-op.

Not maternity.  Not pediatrics.
That was all to come.

Though they didn't know it at first, I was always coming.  Their very own April Fool's joke, played back on them nine months later.

When she couldn't fit into the green scrubs any longer, my mother made herself a green dress to wear at work.  Round collar, short sleeves, gathered yoke.  A big handy pocket for holding things.  

I lived there, right beneath that pocket, while my parents lived in a basement apartment that's no longer there.   If I ever saw that first home, it was before I remember anything.  But I've been told how the bathroom shower spouted onto my father the spaghetti my mother had just rinsed off their dishes in the kitchen sink.

The accidental contingency of everything in that long-gone year has now become inevitability.

Not a leaf fell that autumn that wasn't meant to fall.  Not a snowflake swirled up into their faces that wasn't part of the choreography. 

But it didn't seem that way to them.

Chance fell like leaves all around them. Possibility swirled.

At the center, I was sleeping, dreaming dreams I can't begin to imagine now.

Tuesday, January 6, 2015

even carols come to an end at last

o rapt'rous scene!  o living green!

Though I didn't set out to,  I found I've created, day by day, a playlist to take me through the whole Christmas season, from the week of Thanksgiving to Twelfth Night on January 6th.

What do I do with this? My own Advent celebration.

All I know is that this music and the attentive movement I've made through it has made this Christmas season especially beautiful to me this year.

*        *        *        *        *        *        *        *

Kantorei, McKay ("Crossing to Jordan") from "American Thanksgiving"
Josh Groban, "Thankful"
Heather Prusse, "For the Beauty of the Earth"
Yo-Yo Ma & Alison Krauss, "Simple Gifts"
Tennessee Ernie Ford & San Quentin Prison Choir, "We Gather Together"
Mormon Tabernacle Choir, "Come, Ye Thankful People, Come"
Arve Moen Bergset, "Mitt hjerte alltid vanker" (Danish)
Mari Boine, "Mu vaibmu vadjul doppe (Mitt hjerte alltid vanker)" (Sami)

Sufjan Stevens, "Come, Thou Fount of Every Blessing"
Webb Sisters (Leonard Cohen), "If It Be Your Will"
Fernando Ortega, "Come, O Redeemer, Come"
Enya, "O Come, O Come, Emmanuel"
The Piano Guys, "O Come, O Come, Emmanuel" (instrumental)
Reality SF, "Come, Thou Long-Expected Jesus"
Todd Hall, "Come, Thou Long-Expected Jesus"
David Archuleta, "Riu Riu Chiu"
Saxofonquadrat, "Riu Riu Chiu" (instrumental)
Pentatonix, "Mary Did You Know?"

Sting, "There is No Rose of Such Virtue"
Barbara Dickson, "Down in Yon Forest"
John Fleagle, "The Hern"
Jeff Buckley, "Corpus Christi Carol"
American Boy Choir, "Jesus Christ the Apple Tree" (Elizabeth Poston arrangement)
Cleveland Quire, "Jesus Christ the Apple Tree" (Jeremiah Ingalls arrangement)
Barbra Streisand, "I Wonder as I Wander"
Libera, "Coventry Carol"
Heather Dale, "The Huron Carol" (in Iroquois)
Tom Jackson, "The Huron Carole"
Maddy Prior, "On Christmas Night (The Sussex Carol)"

Peter Hollens, David Archuleta, the Piano Guys, Mormon Tabernacle Choir, "Angels from the Realms of Glory"
Good Shepherd Band, "Gabriel's Message"
Sting, "Gabriel's Message"
Aquabella, "Birjina gaztetto bat zegoen" (Basque)
Sissel, "What Child is This?"
Fairuz, "Talj talj" (Arabic)
Julie Andrews, "Hark, the Herald Angels Sing"
Celtic Sojourn, "Angels We Have Heard on High"
Lady Antebellum, "The First Noel"

Danny Kaye & the Andrews Sisters, "Over the River and Through the Woods"
Libera, "Carol of the Bells"
George Winston, "Carol of the Bells" (instrumental)
Straight No Chaser, "Carol of the Bells"
Rhythm of Christmas, "Ding Dong Merrily on High"
Blackmore's Night, "Ding Dong Merrily on High"
Tre Sorelle, "Noel Nouvelet"
Madchenkantorei am Dom zu Limburg, "Tomorrow Shall Be My Dancing Day"
Nat King Cole, "O Little Town of Bethlehem"
Burl Ives, "It Came Upon a Midnight Clear"

Alison Krauss & Yo-Yo Ma, "The Wexford Carol"
Libera, "Gaudete"
Serpentyne, "Personent Hodie"
Straight No Chaser, "The 12 Days of Christmas"
Crofts Family, "Sparrow in the Birch"
The Von Trapp Children, "The Carol of the Birds (Upon This Holy Night)"
Tim Ericksen, "Carol of the Birds (Star in the East)"
Jeff Black, "Carol of the Birds (Curoo Curoo)"
Michelle Lindahl, "Carol of the Birds (Whence Comes This Rush of Wings)"
Fernando Ortega, "Carol of the Birds" (instrumental)
David Archuleta, "Pat-a-Pan"
Pentatonix, "Little Drummer Boy"

Sarah MacLachlan, "I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day"
Kiera Jo, "Ring Out, Wild Bells"
Crofts Family, "Ring Out, Wild Bells"
Blackmore's Night, "I Saw Three Ships"
Marianne Faithfull & the Chieftains, "I Saw Three Ships A-Sailing"
Craig Duncan, "Masters in the Hall / The Golden Carol of the Wise Men / I Saw Three Ships / As I Sat on a Sunny Bank" (instrumental)
Life Treasury of Christmas Music, "The Golden Carol of the Three Wise Men"
Annie Lennox, "God Rest Ye Merry, Gentlemen"
Jennifer Avalon, "We Three Kings of Orient Are"
Ella Fitzgerald, "We Three Kings of Orient Are / O Little Town of Bethlehem"

Harry Belafonte, "Mary's Boy Child"
Boney M., "Mary's Boy Child / Oh My Lord" 
Barenaked Ladies & Sarah MacLachlan, "God Rest Ye Merry, Gentlemen / We Three Kings"
The Rose Ensemble, "Star in the East (Hail, the Blest Morn)"
Kathy Mattea, "Brightest and Best"
Norumbega Harmony, "Star in the East (Hail, the Blest Morn)"
An Appalachian Christmas, "Beautiful Star of Bethlehem"
Simon & Garfunkel, "Star Carol"

So until next year then?

Friday, December 19, 2014

CAROL : talj talj

Lyrics reposted from allthelyrics:

This Lebanese Christmas carol "Talj talj" ("Snow Snow") is sung by the amazing Fairuz, whose silvery and resonant singing gives voice to the inky depth of a winter night and the innocence of new-fallen snow.  Like the snow in Joy Davidman's poem written after the carnage in Madrid during the Spanish Civil War:
Softly, so casual,
Lovely, so light, so light,
The cruel sky lets fall
Something one does not fight.
How tenderly to crown
The brutal year
The clouds send something down
That one need not fear.
Men before perishing
See with unwounded eye
For once a gentle thing
Fall from the sky.
so the snow in this Lebanese carol speaks a quiet hope of universal peace:
 و النجمات حيرانين و زهور الطرقات بردانيين
Talj talj 3am betshati eddini talj 
Snow is falling on the world
تلج تلج عم بتشتي الدنيي تلج
W ennajmat 7ayraneen W zouhour etter2at berdanyeen
The stars are perplexed and the flowers along the roads are shivering

و الغيمات تعبانين عالتلة خيمات مضويين
Talj talj 3am betshati eddini talj 
Snow is falling on the world
تلج تلج عم بتشتي الدنيي تلج
W elghaymat ta3baneen 3attele khaymat moudouyeen 
The clouds are weary and on the hills, tents are illuminated

و مغارة سهرانه فيها طفل صغير
W imghayra sahrane fiha tifl izgheer
There is a baby in the cave awake
بعيونو الحلياني حب كتير كتير
ba3younou el7alyani houbb ikteer ikteer
And his sweet eyes are full of love

تلج تلج عم بتشتي الدنيي تلج
Talj talj 3am betshati eddini talj
Snow is falling on the world
كل قلب كل مرج زهر فيه الحب متل التلج
Kill 2alb w kill marj zahar fih el7oubb mitl ettalj
every heart, every meadow, has flowered with love like snow

و جاي رعيان من بعيد
W jay ra3yan min ba3eed
The shepherds are coming from abroad
وين الطفل الموعود؟
Wayn ettifl elmou3oud ?
Where is the promised baby ?

هون يا رعيان من بعيد
Hawn ya ra3yan min ba3eed
Here, Oh shepherds from abroad
هون الليل المنشود
Hawn ellayl elmanshoud
Today is the night we wished for

تلج تلج شتي خير و حب و تلج
Talj talj shatti khayr w 7oubb w talj
The snow has brought prosperity and love
على كل قلب و على كل مرج
3ala kill 2alb w 3ala kill marj
To every heart and every meadow
ألفة و خير و حب متل التلج
Ilfe w khayr w 7oubb mitl talj
Friendship, prosperity and love are falling like the snow.

Thursday, December 18, 2014

CAROL : pat-a-pan

This past week it's this song that's popped up each day as I drive Young into town in the morning.  Whenever it comes on I can't keep still -- singing along full-throated and beating on the steering wheel  -- even now I have to break out singing along, my foot tapping, head bobbing.  I want to dance!

This carol was written first in the Burgundian dialect of French that David Archuleta sings in the first verse before switching to English:

Guillô, pran ton tamborin;
Toi, pran tai fleúte, Rôbin!
Au son de cé instruman,
Turelurelu, patapatapan,
Au son de cé instruman
Je diron Noei gaiman

Willie, bring your little drum,
Robin, get your fife and come!
And be merry while you play
Ture-lure-lu patapatapan
We will listen as you play
For a joyful Christmas day!

When the men of olden days
Gave the King of Kings their praise,
They had pipes on which to play
Ture-lure-lu, pata-pata-pan,
They had drums on which to play
For the joy of Christmas Day.

God and man became today
More in tune than fife and drum.
So be merry while you play
Ture-lure-lu, pata-pata-pan,
Come be merry while you play
On this joyous Christmas Day.

Could anyone listen to this and not feel joy's dancing demand?

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

CAROL : what child is this? (II)

And he said unto them, How is it that ye sought me? 
wist ye not that I must be about my Father’s business? 

The unadorned singing and the simplicity of accompaniment make this carol wing straight into my soul.

What Child is this who, laid to rest,
On Mary’s lap is sleeping?
Whom angels greet with anthems sweet,
While shepherds watch are keeping?
This, this is Christ the King,
Whom shepherds guard and angels sing;
Haste, haste, to bring Him laud,
The Babe, the Son of Mary.

Why lies He in such mean estate,
Where ox and ass are feeding?
Good Christian, fear, for sinners here
The silent Word is pleading.
Nails, spear shall pierce Him through,
The cross be borne for me, for you.
Hail, hail the Word made flesh,
The Babe, the Son of Mary.

So bring Him incense, gold and myrrh,
Come, peasant, king, to own Him.
The King of kings salvation brings.
Let loving hearts enthrone Him.
Raise, raise a song on high,
The virgin sings her lullaby.
Joy! joy for Christ is born!
The Babe, the Son of Mary!

I listen over and over again and have no words to add to the perfection that is here.  Instead I will replay and listen again.

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

CAROL : what child is this? (I)

And the King shall answer and say unto them, 
Verily I say unto you, Inasmuch as ye have done it 
unto one of the least of these my brethren, 
ye have done it unto me.

I meant today to post "What Child is This?" but then my aunt shared this singing which seemed more beautiful to me than any carol sung by anyone.  What child is this looking up so trustingly, around whose face Naomi Fell cups her hands?  What child is this who cups her hands around her sister's face and sings and gives the good treasure of her heart? 

We are the shepherds set to guard and the angels called to serve,  we are the children who need His hands to heal us and need to be His hands of healing in the world.

Monday, December 15, 2014

CAROL : gabriel's message

And when she saw him, she was troubled at his saying, 
and cast in her mind what manner of salutation this should be.
And the angel said unto her, Fear not, Mary: 
for thou hast found favour with God.

Sung here by Sting, this beautiful carol was paraphrased into English by the prolific Sabine Baring-Gould from a Basque folk carol:  

The angel Gabriel from Heaven came
His wings as drifted snow, his eyes as flame,
"All hail", said he, "Thou lowly maiden Mary,
Most highly favored lady.  Gloria!

"For known a blessed mother thou shalt be
All generations laud and honor thee.
Thy Son shall be Emmanuel, by seers foretold,
Most highly favored lady.  Gloria!"

Then gentle Mary meekly bowed her head,
"To me be as it pleaseth God," she said
My soul shall laud and magnify His holy name."
Most highly favored lady.  Gloria! 

Of her Emmanuel, the Christ was born
In Bethlehem all on a Christmas morn
And everyone through out the world will ever say,
Most highly favoured lady.  Gloria!

I can't decide whether I prefer the otherworldly feel of Sting's interpretation or the well-named All Angels performance:

Or the pure and contemplative version sung by the Good Shepherd Band:

Good thing we don't have to choose.

Here it is in Basque, with a more ancient sound and the strong dancing rhythm of a real carol:

 (discussion and partial translation on gladallover  :  key words  Birjina = Virgin. Gaztetto = Young. Bat = One. Zegoen = There was. Kreazale = Creator (God). Jaonaren = Jauna = Lord. Othoitzen = Praying. Agur = Hello (hail?) )

Birjina gaztetto bat zegoen
Kreazale Jaonaren othoitzen,
Nuiz et'aingürü bat lehiatü
Beitzen zelütik jaitxi
Mintzatzera haren.

Aingüria sartzen, diolarik:
«Agur, graziaz zira betherik,
Jaona da zurekin, benedikatü
Zira eta haitatü
Emazten gañetik».

Maria ordian dülüratü,
Eta bere beithan gogaratü
Zeren zian uste gabe ebtzüten
Hura agur erraiten.
Hanbat zen lotsatü.

«Etzitela, ez, lotsa, Maria;
Jinkoatan bathü'zü grazia:
Zük düzü sabelian ernatüren,
Eta haor bat sorthüren
Jesüs datiana».

Harek, dülüratürik, harzara:
«Bena nula izan daite hola,
Eztüdanaz gizunik ezagützen,
Ez eta ezagütüren
Batere seküla?».

«Ezpiritü saintiak huntia
Izanen düzü hori, Maria».
Zü zirateke, ber ordian, ama
Bai et'ere birjina,
Mündian bakhoitza.

Mariak arrapostü ordian:
«Hao naizü Jinkoren zerbütxian,
Zük errana nitan biz konplitü».
Jaona aragitü
Haren sabelian.

O Jinkoaren ama saintia,
Bekhatügilen ürgaitzarria,
Zük gitzatzü lagünt, bai Jinkoaren,
Baita berthütiaren
Bihotzez maithatzen.

Sunday, December 14, 2014

CAROL : angels from the realms of glory

 And suddenly there was with the angel 
a multitude of the heavenly host 
praising God, and saying,
Glory to God in the highest, 
and on earth peace, 
good will toward men.

When I heard this song this morning I knew it had to be my carol for the day.  So what if it's the same tune to my first carol of the day?  The plaintive desirous cello, the heartbeat piano, the yearning voices that begin:
Angels from the realms of glory,
Wing your flight o'er all the earth;
Ye who sang creation's story,
Now proclaim Messiah's birth.
make this a new song.

The reverent lullaby of the first
that breaks wider and greater, sweeping into a grander and more glorious
Gloria in excelsis deo!
Until the voices and the cello glide and soar in
Gloria! Gloria!
as if they really were being carried on wings, had really witnessed the first glimmering burst of creation and now, the miraculous new star.  When these earthly angels' voices are joined by a host singing,
Saints before the altar bending,
Watching long in hope and fear,
Suddenly the Lord, descending,
In His temple shall appear:
I want to sing, too, until all sing together, as all should sing:
Though an infant now we view Him
He shall fill His Father's throne.

Gather all the nations to him.
Every knee shall then bow down.
I love the emotion: the joy, reverence and love on the faces of these talented people who gathered on that dark hillside to commemorate another dark hillside long ago and faraway, but also and everlastingly, here and now.  I love the reminder to share and remember the real gift of Christmas:

Once at Easter time when I was in a tiny cathedral, France's tiniest, on its furthest western eastern border, a doll-size cathedral small as a simple stable,  I saw in a niche near the altar, a child's paper doll of Jesus rising from the tomb, hand-crayoned -- not always within the lines.  And next to it a robin's eggshell broken open.  I think of that eggshell always now whenever I sing
in excelsis deo!
remembering the way I misheard it as a child.  I  do not think my childhood's mishearing was entirely mistaken.  Miraculous is miraculous.  It is the Easter promise of renewed life hatching from its mortal shell that gives wings to our Christmas joy.

I suppose it would have been too long a video for all the verses of James Montgomery's poem to be sung, but all the verses deserve to be given voice.  So let this song still be sung and sung again, a new song every time you or I or anyone sings it:

Shepherds, in the field abiding,
Watching o’er your flocks by night,
God with us is now residing;
Yonder shines the infant light!

Sages, leave your contemplations,
Brighter visions beam afar;
Seek the great Desire of nations;
Ye have seen His natal star.

I will rise and come, come singing, because I have seen it shining, too.

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