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
I have appreciated wabi sabi for many years as well as its slightly greener spicier cousin wasabi but having ruminated on the topic more than once, I’d like to share an observation. Some people cannot see the world through this lens and why they cannot is often rooted in ego and/or inability to accept the transient nature of reality. They are tied to the ideas egoism and materialism. Submitted as prime example, Pharaohonic Egypt. One can build some really nice stuff and still not be able to take it with you and persistence in the memory of others fades like all things as the arrow of time flies and entropy increases.
“Making your mark on history” is an exercise in futility and vanity.
“Making life better for all here and now” is a far worthier goal.
It is a notion our so-called “leaders” should consider if they can hear anything over the roaring fires of their egos. That is my holiday wish.
If you need me, I’ll be hanging out at the pool with Buddha, Jesus, Rabbi Hillel and Confucius.
We’ll save a seat for you.
Merry Christmas, blog peoples.
Love is all that matters.
P.S. We made some of the Stanley Family recipe Short Bread Cookies ’round these parts for the holidays and might I say they are pieces of beautiful transient perfection. If you have the means and the formula, I strongly suggest them.
Here ya go:
SCOTTISH SHORTBREAD COOKIES (Stanley recipe)
1 cup butter. Use real creamery butter, not margarine or low fat. If label says “lightly salted” that will work fine.
½ Cup granulated sugar. The finer the grind of sugar, the better, but don’t use confectioners sugar.
2 ½ Cups sifted all purpose flour.
Let butter stand out at room temperature until it softens enough to work with.
Use mixer to cream the butter and sugar. Whip until fluffy and light. Stir the flour into the blended butter and sugar until the ingredients are mixed well.
Divide the wad of dough into two balls and place in bowls. Cover bowls with foil or cling wrap. Chill several hours, preferably overnight. That allows the sugar grains to fully dissolve and blend with the butter and flour. The mixture will also become quite firm.
Press the chilled dough balls onto ungreased cookie tins. Make a sheet of dough about 1/2” thick. Press by hand. Never, ever, try to roll shortbread dough with a rolling pin. Pressing the dough into the cookie tin will be difficult, but gets easier as you work the dough.
In order for the dough to bake all the way through, it will be necessary to prick the dough all over with a fork. Stick the fork into the sheet of dough all the way through to the cookie sheet, usually in rows no more than an inch apart.
Preheat oven to 300º F. Bake 30 minutes. The baked cookies should be light colored with no toasting. If they are left in the oven long enough to take on a brown tint, they will be rock hard.
When removed from the oven the cookie dough will the soft and pliable. Using a sharp knife or pizza cutter, cut into squares about 1” to 1 1/2” in size. Let the cookies harden before trying to remove them from the cookie tin or they will fall apart. Use a spatula to lift off the cookie tin.
NOTE: If a ‘shorter’ cookie is desired, they can be made ‘shorter’ by removing a small amount of flour (about one teaspoon) and substituting the same amount of rice flour.
Thank you both!
Chuck – I know this is a hard holiday for you, the pain is too raw – my wish is that the many good memories you have will be comfort and joy in the years to come
happy holidays to you all
And to you Ann!
Thanks Nona, for the kind thoughts and remembrance. It has been difficult. Everything is too raw.
Back atcha Ann. Best to you and yours, as well as all our blog family. I know you lurkers are out there, because I can see the dashboard.😸