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This week we open with a beautiful reading that sounds like a blessing; it was sent to Words of Connection by Sheila Boyer. The second reading is a poem read at the IFCG’s monthly prayer Zoom meeting by the Police Chaplain for Surrey and Sussex, Frances Novillo. It is called This Year, and is written by Ann Weems, from her collection Kneeling in Bethlehem, published in 1993. Thank you Sheila and Frances.
From these two lovely contributions we move to a theme familiar to us all at this time of year – candles and candle-light – and we have two astonishingly different poems. The first is a a powerful and poignant work called Night in Al-Hamra by the Iraqi poet Saadi Youssef, translated from the Arabic by Khaled Mattawa. The second is a witty offering called Candle Hat by the American poet Billy Collins.
Thank you so much for your contributions and interest. May you feel calm and peaceful at this uncertain time.
Take care and stay well at this time,
KEEP WELL THROUGH THE LONG NIGHTS
Keep well through the long nights
and keep warm through the cold times
In the deep heart of the midnight
Light a candle for the dawn
Keep a centre in the darkness
Keep a vigil through the silence
And remember to remember
That the Spring will come again
I wonder if God comes to the edge of heaven each year
and flings the Star into the December sky,
laughing with joy as it lights the darkness of the earth
and the angels, hearing the laughter of God,
begin to congregate in some celestial
to practice their alleluias.
I wonder if there’s some ordering of rank among the angels
as they move into procession,
the seraphim bumping the cherubim from top spot,
the new inhabitants of heaven standing in the back
until they get the knack of it.
(After all, treading air over a stable and annunciating at the same time can’t be all that easy!)
Or is everybody – that is, every “soul” – free to fly
wherever the spirit moves?
Or do they even think about it?
Perhaps when God calls, perhaps they just come,
this multitude of heavenly hosts.
Perhaps they come,
winging through the winds of time
full of expectancy
full of hope
that this year
perhaps this year
the earth will fall to its knees
in a whisper of “Peace.”
NIGHT IN AL-HAMRA
A candle on the long road
A candle in the slumbering houses
A candle for the terrified stores
A candle for the bakeries
A candle for the journalist shuddering in an empty office
A candle for the fighter
A candle for the doctor at the sick bed
A candle for the wounded
A candle for honest talk
A candle for staircases
A candle for the hotel crowded with refugees
A candle for the singer
A candle for the broadcasters in a shelter
A candle for a bottle of water
A candle for the air
A candle for two lovers in a stripped apartment
A candle for the sky that has folded
A candle for the beginning
A candle for the end
A candle for the final decision
A candle for conscience
A candle in my hand
In most self-portraits it is the face that dominates:
Cezanne is a pair of eyes swimming in brushstrokes,
Van Gogh stares out of a halo of swirling darkness,
Rembrandt looks relieved as if he were taking a breather
from painting The Blinding of Sampson.
But in this one Goya stands well back from the mirror
and is seen posed in the clutter of his studio
addressing a canvas tilted back on a tall easel.
He appears to be smiling out at us as if he knew
we would be amused by the extraordinary hat on his head
which is fitted around the brim with candle holders,
a device that allowed him to work into the night.
You can only wonder what it would be like
to be wearing such a chandelier on your head
as if you were a walking dining room or concert hall.
But once you see this hat there is no need to read
any biography of Goya or to memorize his dates.
To understand Goya you only have to imagine him
lighting the candles one by one, then placing
the hat on his head, ready for a night of work.
Imagine him surprising his wife with his new invention,
the laughing like a birthday cake when she saw the glow.
Imagine him flickering through the rooms of his house
with all the shadows flying across the walls.
Imagine a lost traveller knocking on his door
one dark night in the hill country of Spain.
“Come in, ” he would say, “I was just painting myself,”
as he stood in the doorway holding up the wand of a brush,
illuminated in the blaze of his famous candle hat.