A Sequence for Advent

A few years ago, we bought a wooden advent calendar with little doors concealing magnetic figures that can be arranged on a nativity scene:

Advent Calendar

Last year during Advent I set myself a poetic challenge:  I would hide a slip of paper behind the door with each figure, and on that paper would be a rhyming couplet that said something about the figure; all the couplets together would form a coherent poem to be recited on Christmas Eve when the last door had been opened.  I had to think ahead about the best order for the figures, taking into account that the biggest ones could not fit behind the littlest doors.  But once the order was set, I wrote the couplets day by day, scrambling each evening to prepare the morning’s rhyme.  Some mornings I made excuses to delay the morning Advent Calendar ritual and buy extra time to write!

Once the first stanza was done, my friend Peter Kwasniewski composed a Gregorian chant setting for it, in the one-note-one-syllabus style of a liturgical “sequence” like the Victimae paschali.  The “Advent sequence” was a success, and the melody haunting:  you can read and decide for yourself here.  If you are not familiar with Gregorian chant notation, you can listen to my rendition of it here:

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Beyond the Solar Ray

In his helpful little book Show Your Work!, Austin Kleon urges his readers to “open up their cabinet of curiosities”–or in other words, Don’t horde old work.  Take those old gems out and give them away so they’ll stop making you feel complacent.  In this spirit, and under the “Don’t horde” tag, I’d like to post a few things I wrote years ago, hoping everyone will enjoy them.

First up is a poem I wrote when my wife Jacinta and I were engaged.  We were in college, we were insanely busy, and it seemed like we never talked; we just waved at each other across campus as we each hurried to the next class.  Wanting to write about love, I naturally turned to that wellspring of sentiment, Euclid’s Elements of Geometry:

Beyond the Solar Ray

A_________________B
C_______________________D

Once upon a time, before the Great Liberation,
When the tyranny of Euclid bound the geometric nations,
When lines from numbers stood aloof, and points did have no part,
When “algebraic” was not a proof, and mathematics had no heart,

Then was a romance born which all others does outshine,
A tragedy of quantity, when line did love a line.
She was a fair maid, fairly made, with end points most petite;
In mind she was a middling girl, in disposition sweet.

How clear in form and figure! How in beauty like an elf!
How evenly she lay with all the points upon herself!
Her lover loved her, how he did! Loved her, loved her well.
But sad beyond all telling, the lines were parallel.

On and on indefinitely the lovers both extended,
Pausing now and then for breath, when one of them got winded.
Across the distance set by fate one would the other see:
“My dear,” she cries and he replies, “My love, my love, AB.”

Their thoughts and words were passionate, for lines were not discrete;
Speaking thus they onward flew, but never did they meet.
Now reason has her limits; there is a boundary to her reign.
Definition fails, and demonstration pales, outside a certain plane.

There is a place apart, beyond the solar ray,
Where parallel straight lines can meet, in an unofficial way.
Across the actual infinite with burning hearts they leapt,
Way out beyond the pale, where never line had stepped.

Joy be to all you lovers who lead lives parallel:
As these two lines o’ercame, so you can do as well.
Calm to all you lovers, in pain, so sorely tried,
In time AB, CD were husband and the bride.
No matter how impossible it seem to see the way,
There parallel straight lives can meet, out there,
Apart, beyond the pale of reason, beyond the solar ray.

 

 

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The Gifts of the Spirit

Sorting through old boxes of junk, I found this hand-written poem titled “The Gifts of the Spirit,” from my early graduate school days:

The Angelic Doctor self-described
was a “bat in the sunlight”;
Oh, to feel the warmth of the sun!

I am a bat in a blizzard,
fighting every gust of wind
– but who knows where the wind blows,
whence it comes, and whither it goes?
Perhaps to somewhere good.

God send right wind!

That was scrawled quickly during the last week of the semester, as I slapped together the dismal last in a series of required essays.  Five teachers waited until only four weeks were left in the semester to assign their ten-page papers; knowing that it took me one week to write a good ten-page essay, I saw right away that I would turn in four good papers and one stinker.  The above poem was written as I churned out the stinker.  It was a hard time in other ways as well.

The funny thing is, all these years later I still resonate with the message of that poem.  Life still sends things to all-at-once, I still don’t know where it all goes or where it comes from.  God send right wind!

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Casey in the Classroom

matthew served the point up which no one had seen before but once served once served it was not his but ours and we batted it back to the net for tim to slam down while we cheered and watched so ran the plan but tim slipped and tessa leapt to keep the point in the air while we all took positions then the teacher through our midst came to hammer home the point over the net with his hand like a giant and his face like a thunder cloud and in the wake of his resounding whack we stood with mouths like mackeral to see the point on the ground still on our side of the net and not over the net at all.

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