I live near Boston and teach philosophy at Boston University. Besides academic pieces, I write fiction (when I’m up to it) and poems (when I can’t help it). I use a fountain pen—my link to tradition—and write to music. I’ve published essays, stories, and poems in a wide variety of journals. A new story collection, Heiberg’s Twitch, is forthcoming.
In December, the absurdity of
life can look beautiful, a roiling
landscape seized stone-still in a silver frame.
The year will taper down to one cold morning
with air still as a postcard’s, behind pines
and slanting roofs a flawless blue that never
suffered smoke, proof even against bombers.
Snow whitens the grass like confectioner’s
sugar. Once more the night will have worked its
lustration, as though every branch were fashioned
anew one second before dawn. Here’s your
world. We make no claim that it is other
than absurd, but here it is. A meteor
may be hurtling toward it, its axis may
tip, oceans rise, pestilence brew in its
venomous forests, but here it is, for now.
Difficulties of the month. We and our
days zigzag like doomed railway cars against
the brick wall of gaiety and some derail
even in pastoral hamlets scented with
wood smoke; the preparation/completion
ratio soars above a hundred to
one, all the cooking and spending thickened
by memory, sweetened by ads to an
anxiously nostalgic nog; the senses
reel from hackneyed tunes, the lights and smell of
balsam, the flakes, the cold days short like jabs,
dispiriting tinsel, fog, and the rude
onslaught of the malls. You can’t help feeling
the Saturnalia is gravid with its
own destruction’s seeds, that the crescendo
will be a wreck of expectancy, a
ruin of forced smiles and parched spruce; for
there’s no solution to a holiday.
After cocktails and supper Chaplin did
impressions on demand. Harry Lauder,
Woodrow Wilson—people would call out the
famous living names. Caruso! someone
shouted once, and Charlie did Puccini
up a treat. Oh, Mr. Chaplin, fawned a
starlet, I’d no idea you’ve such a lovely
voice. Chaplin grinned. But I don’t, my dear.
I was only imitating Caruso.
No matter how cold, in glad December
you can do impressions of the happy.
“In December” first appeared in Poem.
One adolescent December, fingering
away last year’s wax from the family menorah,
it struck me that I’d have chosen the wrong side,
would have yearned to join the city scholars,
not those zealots in the hills. The Symposium
and Sappho, Miltiades and the Cyclops,
Achilles and the Argonauts’ adventures
would surely have inveigled me away from
the strictures of the Law. Before the prophets’
and my father’s scolding I’d have preferred the
discourse of the gymnasia, sought my
freedom in wrestling, tossing disks, the gags of
Aristophanes. Even Epicurus’
faithlessness might feel like deliverance from
the strait and pared down life of the circumcised.
Earth mothers always throw the best parties, the
sort that make sky gods scowl. Backsliding
belongs to tradition as much as remorse
or the miracle of everlasting light.
“24 Kislev” first appeared in Stonecoast Review.
©2015 Robert Wexelblatt