by Nona Blyth Cloud
Wabi–sabi (侘寂) represents a comprehensive Japanese world view or aesthetic centered on the acceptance of transience and imperfection. The aesthetic is sometimes described as one of beauty that is “imperfect, impermanent, and incomplete.”
Rust, asymmetric shapes, age lines — life’s textures.
So many people feel pressure to make the holidays “perfect.” For a lot of Americans, it may be the only time we see our far-flung family members or long-time friends, so we make unreasonable demands on ourselves to make the time together “special” — frantically planning everything down to the last detail, when all that really matters is being together, not what we do or how much we eat.
So here are some poems about unexpected events or sudden insights at Christmas, the impermanent imperfections of the season that we find, years later, are the very things that make these days memorable and beautiful.
“Your Luck Is About To Change”
(A fortune cookie)
by Susan Elizabeth Howe
Ominous inscrutable Chinese news
to get just before Christmas,
considering my reasonable health,
marriage spicy as moo-goo-gai-pan,
career running like a not-too-old Chevrolet.
Not bad, considering what can go wrong:
the bony finger of Uncle Sam
might point out my husband,
my own national guard,
and set him in Afghanistan;
my boss could take a personal interest;
the pain in my left knee could spread to my right.
Still, as the old year tips into the new,
I insist on the infant hope, gooing and kicking
his legs in the air. I won’t give in
to the dark, the sub-zero weather, the fog,
or even the neighbors’ Nativity.
Their four-year-old has arranged
his whole legion of dinosaurs
so they, too, worship the child,
joining the cow and sheep. Or else,
ultimate mortals, they’ve come to eat
ox and camel, Mary and Joseph,
then savor the newborn babe.
Susan Elizabeth Howe has published
two poetry collections: Salt and Stone Spirits
by Billy Collins
The first thing I heard this morning
was a soft, insistent rustle,
the rapid flapping of wings
against glass as it turned out,
a small bird rioting
in the frame of a high window,
trying to hurl itself through
the enigma of transparency into the spacious light.
A noise in the throat of the cat
hunkered on the rug
told me how the bird had gotten inside,
carried in the cold night
through the flap in a basement door,
and later released from the soft clench of teeth.
Up on a chair, I trapped its pulsations
in a small towel and carried it to the door,
so weightless it seemed
to have vanished into the nest of cloth.
But outside, it burst
from my uncupped hands into its element,
dipping over the dormant garden
in a spasm of wingbeats
and disappearing over a tall row of hemlocks.
Still, for the rest of the day,
I could feel its wild thrumming
against my palms whenever I thought
about the hours the bird must have spent
pent in the shadows of that room,
hidden in the spiky branches
of our decorated tree, breathing there
among metallic angels, ceramic apples, stars of yarn,
its eyes open, like mine as I lie here tonight
picturing this rare, lucky sparrow
tucked into a holly bush now,
a light snow tumbling through the windless dark.
Billy Collins, U.S. Poet Laureate (2001-03),
has published many poetry collections,
including The Art of Drowning, Nine Horses
and Questions About Angels.
Taking Down The Tree
by Jane Kenyon
‘Give me some light!’ cries Hamlet’s
uncle midway through the murder
of Gonzago. ‘Light! Light!’ cry scattering
courtesans. Here, as in Denmark,
it’s dark at four, and even the moon
shines with only half a heart.
The ornaments go down into the box:
the silver spaniel, My Darling
on its collar, from Mother’s childhood
in Illinois; the balsa jumping jack
my brother and I fought over,
pulling limb from limb. Mother
drew it together again with thread
while I watched, feeling depraved
at the age of ten.
With something more than caution
I handle them, and the lights, with their
tin star-shaped reflectors, brought along
from house to house, their pasteboard
toy suitcases increasingly flimsy.
Tick, tick, the desiccated needles drop.
By suppertime all that remains is the scent
of balsam fir. If it’s darkness
we’re having, let it be extravagant.
Jane Kenyon published four books of poetry:
Constance, Let Evening Come, The Boat of Quiet Hours,
and From Room to Room. She died of leukemia at age 48.
by Shel Silverstein
I made myself a snowball
As perfect as could be.
I thought I’d keep it as a pet
And let it sleep with me.
I made it some pajamas
And a pillow for its head.
Then last night it ran away,
But first it wet the bed.
Shel Silverstein, beloved children’s book author, poet,
singer-songwriter, cartoonist, and screenwriter, has over
20 million books in print in 30 languages.
Wishing all of us Wabi-Sabi Holidays, and an imperfectly beautiful New Year.
Sources and Further Reading:
Waki-Sabi definition from Wikipedia
“Your Luck Is About To Change” (A fortune cookie) by Susan Elizabeth Howe,
published in Poetry Magazine, December 2002
Christmas Sparrow, from Aimless Love: Selected Poems,
© 2013 by Billy Collins, Random House
Taking Down the Tree from Collected Poems,
© 2005 by the Estate of Jane Kenyon, Graywolf Press
Snowball, from Falling Up © 1996 by Shel Silverstein, The Book Press