Thursday, December 20, 2018

Christmas Music in the Ruins

This year, many of our Christmas CDs are still packed away in a box, so we've been listening to the radio more to get our soundscape.  I am struck by how many bad versions there are of a variety of holiday songs.

I'm also struck by how annoyed I am with some old favorites.  Yesterday on the way to Christmas lunch, "So this is Christmas" came on the radio.  I said, "I do not need John Lennon asking me what I've done in the past year."

And I'm struck by how sad some of these songs are:  all the songs with the theme of baby please come home.  And the older I get, the more I think of all the people who won't be coming home.

And yet, there are some musical surprises in this season.  In my high school Facebook group, one of my former classmates posted a recording of him singing "Mary Did You Know."  It's not a song I would have expected him to choose, based on his heavy metal preferences that are much more obvious.  It was beautiful.

As I was driving home yesterday, I listened to the Christmas radio station.  I saw the word Sarajevo on my radio display and heard the cello music and thought about holidays in the ruins.  I thought about a novel or a collection of short stories that revolved around post-apocalyptic holidays.  It could be a work that explored life after disaster and also served as an elegy for holiday celebrations of our current time.  In 20 years, when we're being ever more buffeted by climate change, how will our current mode of celebration be remembered?

This morning, I thought about all the ways I've explored this theme in my writing of poems.  Years ago, I was hearing about a Christmas Eve service being held at the ruins of the World Trade Center, and I created this poem:

Christmas Eve at Ground Zero

We are not the first to be incinerated,
our bones and blood blending into ash.
We are not the first to see the flash.
We are not the first to keep our Christmas
haunted by the ghosts of all we’ve lost.

We light the candles under a cold
sky. We long for good news.
We need that angelic message:
“Be Not Afraid!”

But we are so afraid,
afraid of the dark, afraid of the stranger.
We fear the sound of crickets,
the deep blue sky, the scarred skyline.
We fear occupying armies and upstart revolutionaries.

Across town, a woman strains
to give birth to something new.
A brave band of carolers sings
back the darkness. A young girl pokes
seeds into the construction site.

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