Hymn to the Marschallin-Cat

In the ongoing saga that is our battle against the parcels of Advent tea, we experimented with a different tea infuser tonight. Whereas our usual is large and bell-shaped, this one is small, squat and house-shaped, what the giver dubbed our ‘tea grotto.’ This makes no difference, if you were wondering, to the elaborate procedure of tea leaf extraction from vacuum-packed plastic bags. We have, however, extracted a considerable number of tea leaves from the rug. Packaging 4: Us nil.

It was another apple tea tonight, appropriately dubbed Apple Cider. It’s supposed to taste like the drink – the wintery, non-alcoholic one. It does too, alternately sweet and tart by turns, depending on the length of steeping. It’s also a herbal tea though, and to our mind is fractionally too sweet. We blame the combination of apple and blackcurrant for a base. Overtop a green tea it would be perfect; as it is, the cinnamon and vanilla don’t quite balance out the fruit.

It also sports that most disturbing of things, cream essence. That’s not really a point against it; we’ve seen cream essence in enough teas by now to accept it as mundane. But we would someday like an explanation as to what it is. Is it manufactured? Powdered? Does one wave the prepackaged tea in front of a creamer? The tea proper doesn’t taste creamy and it also doesn’t smell of it, evidenced by the Marschallin-cat’s utter disdain for it.  Miss Marschallin, to the uninitiated, has a sixth sense for all things milky.

Miss Marschallin does her best impression of Miss Jean Brodie, also of Edinburgh.

We were going to segue from tea to the virtues of the Marschallin-cat, but it’s late, and she’s quite well-documented here. Less well-documented though is her origin as an Edinburgh cat. She came to us from Lothian Cat Rescue, where the felines are undaunted by quarter hours,  flatten others’ scorn under the chariot wheels of their superiority, and, are, of course, in their prime. Certainly the Marschallin-cat is. Accordingly, here’s a hymn to Miss Marschallin. Well, to an Edinburgh cat, name unspecified. But don’t let on, will you?

An Edinburgh Cat 

M.L. Dalgleish

There are cats in the Canongate and cats in the Cowgate
Up ad down Lawnmarket and right round St Giles;
Urban cats in Trinity and rural cats at Howgate,
Toms and tabbies purr and prowl for miles and miles and miles.
But not a single cat of them, claims where I wait
High in Ramsay Garden, clinging to the tiles.

From there I peer at Edinburgh with eager eyed felinity.
Traffic and humanity, at work and sleep and play,
From West end to Waverly, from Sun. to Saturday;
All the chase and chatter of the city’s femininity
On bargain hunt at Jenners and Binns, and C.&A.

Storm clouds over Fife, in the Firth the white spray curling;
Loud with the north easter, I shriek a merry mew;
Summer time in Princes Street; kilted dancers whirling
Where the flowery gardens hear my purring all night thro’,
Bagpipers on the Esplanade, and high above their skirling
I sing in shrill cacophony my joy at the Tattoo.

Grey friars Bobby sits smug beside his Candlemakers
A burgess and a movie star grown pompous by renown;
The unicorn of Mercat Cross mounts guard on holy acres,
Law-abiding citizens who view me with a frown;
Yet if I ever fall victim to town planners and house-breakers,
My loss would be catastrophe for Edinburgh-town.

*We can’t go without observing that while we lived many years in Scotland, we never once met a cat that joyed in the Edinburgh tattoo. Come to that we’re not sure we met non-tourists who joyed in it. But if you have, do get in touch!

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On Tea – and its Ritual Trappings

Give us time, we said. We’ll try we said. Three days of wrestling with the plastic-wrapped tea really was us trying. Turns out the old saw about Anglicans and lightbulbs is absolutely true; you need one to pour the sherry, one to change the bulb and one to complain about the superiority of the old bulb. Being neither mechanical or keen on sherry, we clearly fall to the complaining. Swap in tea for lightbulbs and it works a treat.

The thing is, it’s not just that the plastic is different. It’s that its badly designed. In spite of assurances that the bag contains ‘two perfect spoonfuls,’ the opening  of the packaging is engineered to be at peek narrowness. Consequently any heaped teaspoon emerging therefrom scatters gaily across the kitchen counter. We then sweep the leaves into our hands, and thence into the tea infuser. But since we can’t hold the infuser in one hand while spooning stuff out of a hopelessly narrow bag, that too empties on to the counter. We gather it up. We take out a second spoonful. It spills across the counter. We combine it with the leaves we are now sheltering in the palm of one hand.  (Pause here to say a quick prayer that it staysin the confines of one’s hands and doesn’t, say, overrun on to the floor.) We portion the combined lot back into the tea infuser and weep for fellow tea-drinkers partaking in the  24 Days of Tea /Advent Calendar That Isn’t. Are you keeping up? No? Don’t worry, neither are we and we’re living this experience.

Please. For the love of this tea-drinker’s sanity, reinstate the silver and gold tins.

Scrap that. The tins can be whatever colour the cosmos fancies. Blue, green, multicoloured with leprechauns and gremlins. Just bring them back.

Today’s tea was ‘Let it Snow’ a lovely green tea that is the tea company’s newest and latest take on our beloved Crumble Tea. As you’ll appreciate, we took great pains not to let that scatter counter-wide. It’s a bit sweeter than the Crumble Tea, maybe not quite enough spice to balance out the apple flavour. But it’s good all the same and we’re guarding the current supply rather jealously. Even if we do have to tip it into a recyclable tin to ensure its used to its full potential.

And for a tea that tastes like an old favourite, here’s a lovely and well-worn poem to go with it. We’ve always skirted it on the blog, thinking it’s probably the obvious tea poem, and everyone familiar with it. They almost certainly are, but it’s lovely anyway.

Tea

Carol-Ann Duffy

I like pouring your tea, lifting
the heavy pot, and tipping it up,
so the fragrant liquid streams in your china cup.

Or when you’re away, or at work,
I like to think of your cupped hands as you sip,
as you sip, of the faint half-smile of your lips.

I like the questions – sugar? – milk? –
and the answers I don’t know by heart, yet,
for I see your soul in your eyes, and I forget.

Jasmine, Gunpowder, Assam, Earl Grey, Ceylon,
I love tea’s names. Which tea would you like? I say
but it’s any tea for you, please, any time of day,

as the women harvest the slopes
for the sweetest leaves, on Mount Wu-Yi,
and I am your lover, smitten, straining your tea.

This is the Record of Tea

Query; if we’re calling this thing 24 Days of Tea, do we have to start reworking the header along the lines of ‘The 12 Days of Christmas’?

Make that the nth reason why we persist in talking about an Advent Calendar, shall we? Apologies to the atheists and agnostics out there, sincerely, but we still go to church, still observe Advent, and we really, really, really hate playfully inventive headlines. Writing them, that is. Look ye elsewhere for those.

Other notes include the observation that while we’ve now tried the new plastic-wrapped tea approach by the calendar, we prefer the tins. Yes, the tins were hard to open. Yes, they frequently vexed us. But we had a whole system. Take a teaspoon, gently lever it under the lid, prise the lid up, and twist open. It was a good system. It worked. What can we say? No one has the market on Grumpiness and Apathy to Change cornered quite like the Anglican Communion.

Our working theory is that this too is about inclusivity. See, ever since the sharp decline in church attendance, we swapped the icthus for the tea tin. The Anglican Inquisition now covertly hands tins of tea to its members to signify fellowship. It’s a superior option to cake or death, but it does rather leave people out in the cold. We will now bond over the experience of the fiddly plastic tea bag, atheist and Anglican alike. All while singing The 24 Days of Tea. Tell you what, give us time and we promise to warm up to this brave new world where tea is plastic-wrapped and Advent is bad marketing. We’ll try really hard. Tomorrow.

Today has been long. It was Advent I, so Mass had everything including the kitchen sink at play. We lunched with a friend and attended a Christmas concert that, while lovely, had clearly been read the same marketing memo as the tea people. On the other hand, they stuck doggedly to the ‘original’ lyrics to ‘Deck the Halls’ (inasmuch as these things have original lyrics) so maybe that balances out the ‘Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy’.

Now we’re unwinding after it all drinking cinnamon roibos. It’s the perfect way to relax, and comes highly recommended. It also doesn’t taste terribly of cinnamon, which is odd, because when we wrestled the tea from plastic wrap to tea infuser, we definitely saw cinnamon pieces. It smells of cinnamon though. Given the history of these things to smell of things they are not, this is no small victory.

This isn’t necessarily the fault of the tea. Roibos is the kind of tea that comes naturally spiced; taste-wise, certain varieties aren’t miles from cinnamon-flavoured anyway. To overwhelm that and bring secondary flavours through, this is a tea that has to steep an exceptionally long time. Twenty minutes later and the second cup had definite notes of cinnamon to it. It was lovely, but you won’t be making this up for a quick cup of anything before breakfast.

If you survived all that, have tea and a biscuit. And then, just to prove we don’t take it all too seriously, have a poem that pokes fun at any Anglican that dares try.

What’s The Use?
by S.J. Forrest

transcribed by Father James Siemens, AF

‘Oh just the usual thing you know; the BCP all through,
Just pure and unadulterated 1662;
A minimum of wise interpolations from the Missal,
The Kyrie in Greek, the proper Collects and Epistles,
The Secret and the Canon and the Dominus Vobiscum,
(Three avesand a salveat the end would amiss come);
To the “militant” and “trudle” there is little need to cling,
But apart from these exceptions, just the ordinary thing.’

‘Oh, just the usual thing you know; we’re C of E of course,
But beautify the service from a mediaeval source,
With various processions, and in case you shouldn’t know,
There are tunicled assistants who will tell you where to go;
And should you in bewilderment liturgically falter,
Just make a little circumambulation of the altar.
The blessing, like a bishop, you majestically sing;
But apart from these exceptions, just the ordinary thing.’

‘Oh, just the usual thing you know; but very up to date,
Our basis is the liturgy of 1928,
With lots of local colouring and topical appeal,
And much high-hearted happiness, to make the service real;
Our thoughts on high to sun and sky, to trees and birds and brooks,
Our altar nearly hidden in a library of books;
The Nunc Dimittis, finally “God Save The Queen” we sing;
But, apart from these exceptions, just the ordinary thing.’

‘Oh, just the usual thing you know, we trust that you’ll be able
To mingle with the reredos and stand behindthe Table;
(For clergymen who celebrate and face the congregation,
Must pass a stringent glamour-test before their ordination!)
Patristic ceremonial; economy of gesture,
Though balanced by a certain superfluity of vesture;
With lots of flanking presbyters all gathered in a ring,
But, apart from these exceptions, just the ordinary thing.’

And because it’s Advent I and a Sunday, that means music. We move from the ridiculous to the sublime, because, while we can be irreverent about tea and even the liturgy, music is definitely sacred. Here’s a piece we play on a loop right through until the calendar says it’s officially Christmas. Enjoy.

24 Days of Tea

It’s been an age. But the tea Advent Calendar is back, and so are we. Well, okay, if we’re being technical…it’s the 24 Days of Tea because marketing thinks Advent Calendar might alienate the atheists. The agnostics too. We’d take their point if we thought the average church-goer could still tell you why we call Advent Advent. Alas, we do not, so have faith less than a mustard seed that the atheists and agnostics are ahead of us. Maybe we are unfair. Maybe they are. On the other hand, Lady Marchmaine assures me that if you’re agnostic, you[re practically Anglican. And if you’re an atheist buying a tea Advent Calendar, odds are on you’re more interested in the tea than the branding. We’d imagine.

It was Candy Cane today, by the way. A black tea with pieces of…well…pieces of something it it. Specifically a snowflake-shaped something that gives the tea a liquid After Eight taste and makes the tea sparkle. Really. It’s sort of a filmy-besparkled surface. Our bet is on some kind of mint flavoured sugar crystal. Anyway, it’s very nice if you like peppermint. We happen to. The black tea base counterbalances it well. Be sure to give it plenty of time to steep though. After a good seven minutes, ours was still weak. But then, we use a tea infuser.

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It being December, other trivia at this end include the conclusion of the Scottish Country Christmas Dance at our end. Reels, jigs, strathspeys, and lots of metrically complicated things. The upshot is that we now understand a reel of four and the art of set-and-balance. On which note, here’s one of Pat Batt’s poetic gens about the art of the Scottish Country Dance.

THE INTERMEDIATE CLASS

By Pat Batt

Well now I’m Intermediate –
My feet are doing nicely –
The brain still finds it hard to cope
And work things out precisely.
I sometimes feel that I’m a pawn
In a giant game of chess –
But the pattern’s getting clearer
And the chaos getting less.
I’ve mastered chain progression,
I can do a nifty Knot –
But the Rondel and Espangnole,
I admit they’re not so hot.

So – here you find me in the set
And I am number two.
I’m O.K. for the first few bars –
I’ve nothing much to do.
I’ve stepped up very nicely
(It’s lovely to be dancing!)
But – someone’s coming up the set –
Oh, should I be advancing?
Ah no, it’s just a set and turn
And balance in a line –
My confidence comes flooding back
And now I’m doing fine!

I’ve come in for the Allemande
(Arm over on bar one!)
Now I can do it properly
I’m finding it such fun!
I’ve done 8 slip steps to the left
And 8 back to the right,
I’ve turned, and now I’m casting
And the end is now in sight.
I’ve remembered all the proper things
That I’ve been taught to do –
And the nicest thing about it is
My teacher’s happy too!

 

Before we go, here’s a look at Miss Haden’s Reel to round off your evening. It’s a jig, by the by. One can only presume whoever named the thing was having a laugh at the expense of beginners. Even so, it’s a good bit of fun.

Lord, Teach us how to Pray Aright

Far be it from us to offer lessons in prayer. Especially at Refreshment Sunday when, if anything, we relax our Lenten discipline. But we’re thinking about how we pray today because of something that came up in the intercessions.

That is, the intercessor began praying for ‘all who are disabled and mentally ill: may they find solace, comfort and consolation.’ We know it was well meant. And we hate mixing our politics with church. But today we have to.

Because here’s the thing: we are partially sighted. We are also choristers, dancers, embroiderers, and voracious readers. And with the best will in the world, we reserve the right to take a wooden spoon to any stranger who tries, unsolicited , to escort us off trains, across the road or down stairs. Does that sound like a life in need of consoling?

We were once asked if, given the chance, we’d take full vision over our hemianopoeia, or restricted field. We were horrified. We can no more imagine life without partial sight than we can imagine not breathing. It’s part of us. We’d no more change it than we would our height or our eye colour. And we devoutly hope no one is praying for our miraculous recovery of something we have never missed.

That is not everyone’s experience. But it is ours. There will always be people who do need that petition for consolation, and no doubt some of them will have disabilities and some will not. We’re as rich and varied a community as any other though. So pray for accessibility, and inclusion, and intelligent discussions about integrating us into everyday community. And pray for anyone who needs consolation as you would pray your ill or grieving. But pray thoughtfully. The assumption that we need all the same thing does everyone a disservice.

The Trees on the Mountain are Accented?

Do we need to add accents to music? We ask because some years back we were introduced to the strange and weird world of Albert Herring. We didn’t think much about the accent question at the time; we were in Scotland and all the singers sounded British, inasmuch as singing is ever accented.

But then we were introduced to what must be one of our favourite pieces of music in all opera, The Trees on the Mountain. It comes from Carlyle Floyd’s Susannah, and while it’s based on the apocryphal book of the same name, Floyd relocates the action to the heart of Southern America. It’s not nearly well-known enough elsewhere, though it put Floyd on the musical map. This means there are precious few recordings of it that we can find – and the ones we can are full of the South. Not surprising, if, as with our Albert Herring the cast was Southern, but the singers of Floyd aren’t. Yet, every one of them feels the need to adopt the soft-spoken Southern accent as they negotiate the music, and every time we here the dialectised words, we’re pulled out of the music for a second.

You have to understand; it’s not written that way. Oh, there’s the odd bit of dialectic phrasing, take ‘The sky’s so bright and velvet-like,’ for instance. But relaxed vowels are all interpretive -not written into the text. That’s not to say, of course, that it can’t be done – otherwise cry heresy to every rescoring of Bach and Rameau through history. We’ve been putting our stamp on music forever, adding dynamics were there were none, taking them out where an editor we disagree with wrote them in, ornamenting and decorating and offering suggestions for grace notes. But accents? Even ones not ours?

It’s an odd thing. Undeniably a large part of Susannah’s musical identity is its Southernness. But when we sing Trees on the Mountain, or even its companion, Ain’t it a Pretty Night  – and we have – we find it distinctly unnatural to assume an accent that isn’t our funny hybrid of Canadian-British-Scots-whatever-people-guess-at-the-moment. The fact is when we sing we sound neutral, and turning ‘my’ into ‘ma’ makes harder already challenging intervals. It also makes us sound and feel absurd, since we still sound Canadian-Scots-British-et&. Would it be different if that was our natural speech pattern? Very possibly.

And then there’s the music. We’ve already said this is an opera steeped in the South. Floyd wrote the culture into the music. However you sing the words, there is no getting around the lilting lyricism of this opera with its roots in folk revival. It’s the music of a people turned grand opera. It isn’t easy music, but it is music with the kind of fluid tessitura that allows it to sit comfortably in any voice.

Albert Herring isn’t quite the same. It’s brittle and spiky, even chaotic. It doesn’t sound of England in quite the way Susannah sounds musically southern. Except that it does. It’s not Elgar, but it’s clipped and precise in a cut-glass way that is beautifully evocative of the posh, stratified society the eponymous Herring wants to throw off. As he tries to eschew it the music grows wild and chromatic. So not only does it sound of a place, it sounds of the particular social sphere being depicted. Does it need the cut-glass accents singers often bring to it? Does Trees on the Mountain need its dialectic stresses? For our money this is a case of music first, then words. Place, history, class: it’s all there; one only needs to listen.

Review; Abduction from the Seraglio

The Canadian Opera Company has launched a revival performance of Mozart’s Abduction on the Seralio, or as rendered in German, Die Entfürung aus dem Serail.

Ever a problematic text for its exoticism, Wajdi Mouawad, who first conceived of the revival, has reworked the dialogue of Mozart’s singspiel to deal in nuanced fashion with the complexities of race and exoticism that colour the source. The only problem is that adding nuance to this operatic soufflé is a bit like rewriting a Gilbert & Sullivan opera to be subtle.

In any case, an attentive reading of Mozart’s Die Entfürung aus dem Serail finds the Pasha, far from the stereotyped Muslim Mouawad fears, to be the most nuanced character in the piece, forgoing vengeance for mercy. If Osmin, his attendant, and narrative foil, is more archetypal, at least he’s in good company. Osmin is to Serail what Monastres was to The Magic Flute. Except, of course, where Osmin is Islamic, Monastres is black.

Undeniably this is problematic, and there is conversation to be had about how we now depict these characters. Typically the Monastres quandary is eliminated by lifting the racially offensive dialogue from the translation. One is left to wonder why a similar approach couldn’t have worked here. Instead we get an extra hour’s worth of dialogue, often didactic after a fashion to make Maria Edgeworth look nuanced, or indeed Gilbert & Sullivan subtle.

Didacticism aside, the new text sits uneasily with the music, as playful Pedrillo is rendered earnest and angry, Konstanze is genuinely torn between her suitors, and Blonde seems really in love with Osmin. It’s undoubtably an interesting premise, and it opens an interesting conversation about perceptions of East and West. What it isn’t is Mozart’s Seralio, a comedic romp through the nonsensical and convoluted —except in music.

And in this regard the singers shine. If Owen McCausland struggles to turn comedic music serious, he blossoms when allowed honest-to-goodness levity, and is technically a joy to listen too. Jane Archibald, singing Konstanze, acquits herself with aplomb and a ringing, stratospheric top. Claire de Sévigné Blonde isn’t quite so deft, but she floats the top of her voice in lovely fashion, while Mauro Peter dives into the role of Bellemonte with enviable ease, making every note seem effortless.

If only it weren’t enmeshed in a retelling that doesn’t fit. We’d have loved to have seen this lunatic rollick through the Ottaman Empire at its nonsensical best —we’re confident this cast would have carried it with zest and sparkle. Alas, it was not to be. We said earlier Serail was an operatic soufflé. Like any good soufflé, it collapses under the pressure of weighty issues and earnestness. Thank goodness for the music. Sublime it might be, but it knows better than to take itself seriously. There is, after all, merit in the musical soufflé. Just ask messers Gilbert & Sullivan.

Oxen Kneeling

Appropriately for tonight, we’re drinking a Santa’s Secret, a sweetened black tea with pieces of candy cane. We could be liturgically snippy and say really this belongs in the December 6 box, for St Nicholas, but this is a Canadian Calendar, and Santa has long been associated here with Christmas Eve, never mind the liturgical calendar.

Besides, we’ve always loved the little human embroideries of the biblical narrative. Christ falling three times during Stations of the Cross, for the humanity and frailty it gives Him, the tabby cat who got her M-shaped marking on her forehead when Mary blessed her for keeping the Christ warm in the manger, or the cherries she plucks from that cherry tree in the carol. Did any of them happen? Impossible to say, but someone, somewhere once believed that they did, and ever since people have cleaved to them in various degrees, and have kept adding. Santa and his sleigh, the tree that craved great purpose and so became the Cross -and here’s another for you.

An old English superstition says that on Christmas Eve the oxen kneel at midnight to greet the Christ. It’s immortalised forever by Thomas Hardy in poetry, who crammed such superstitions into all his writing. We’ve shared superstition and poem before, but the old-world awe of the image of the oxen kneeling is one that never loses its beauty for us.  Perhaps we’ll find a better Christmas Eve poem in the New Year, but until we do, have the oxen kneeling.

The Oxen 

Thomas Hardy

Christmas Eve, and twelve of the clock.
“Now they are all on their knees,”
An elder said as we sat in a flock
By the embers in hearthside ease.
We pictured the meek mild creatures where
They dwelt in their strawy pen,
Nor did it occur to one of us there
To doubt they were kneeling then.
So fair a fancy few would weave
In these years! Yet, I feel,
If someone said on Christmas Eve,
“Come; see the oxen kneel,
“In the lonely barton by yonder coomb
Our childhood used to know,”
I should go with him in the gloom,
Hoping it might be so.
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No oxen to kneel here, but all the same, a happy Christmas from all at Dawlish-uder-snow!

White Cranberry Bark and Advent Carols

We spent this afternoon catching the last performance of The Messiah for this season’s run. It was wonderfully done, with zest and energy even in the slower pieces. The orchestra had a light touch, and the highlight of the performance for us was the choir. (No, we’re not biased at all, why would you think that?) Their diction was good, their sound bright, and they were -oh rarity -always together. In a large choir, that’s no easy feat.

As ever with The Messiah there was a fair bit of elasticity, and pieces were sung by parts we normally associate with others. On that note, we wanted to give you this communion hymn that ambushed us the other week. We never expected to like anything with a tambourine (they’re too often used to soppy effect) but the jocundity here is contagious. You may or may not recognise the text as Comfort Ye My People. We associate it with Handel’s Messiah, but that’s about all they have in common -well, that, and as it happens, we love both arrangements. We hope you will too.

 

Now, the concert over, we’re drinking a tea billed as being White Cranberry Bark. It’s herbal, pink, and tastes tart -the cranberry, presumably. You have to let this one steep. Our first effort was impatient and it tasted mostly of hot water, but about ten minutes into brewing the cranberry came through, and the white chocolate is merely a culinary afterthought. So you see, we can like a tea with chocolate in it after all. Though we still think it’s a bit odd.

And on the subject of oddities, we’re taking a risk here and giving you a poem we haven’t made up our mind about. We first heard it two or three years ago when the St Salvator’s Chapel Choir, St Andrews, premiered a carol cycle arranged by a composer we now forget -possibly John MacMillan. It was interspersed with poetry, and we found this Advent Carol in verse. See what you make of it.

The Midwife’s Carol

Michael Symmons Roberts

Deserts freeze and oceans glaze,
The polar sun turns blue,
Then on winter’s whitened page
A single star prints through.

New-made maker, helpless king,
Born to joy and suffering,
Our rescuer, our child,
Our rescuer, our child.

I haul my catch into the world,
I shake him into breath,
His cry, so clear it splits the skies,
Could wake a man from death.

He cries for milk who gave it taste,
He aches for touch of skin,
Yet he spun every human hair,
And ushered love begin.

I count his fingers, wipe

his eyes,
Then whisper in each ear.
I wrap him in my thickest shawl,
Bound tight to keep him here.

My hands have cradled many heads,
Cut countless cords and cauls,
But never held eternity
Within such fragile walls.

The maker of all worlds is made,
Infinity becalms,
From speed of light to feet of clay,
My saviour in my arms.

For our money, if you’re interested, if that italicised bit is a chorus, it’s unnecessary. Strictly speaking, its superfluous anyway, but if it’s meant to repeat, well, look for us cowering in a corner somewhere waving a cross in the general direction of all things uncomfortably sentimental. And yes, there are probably quite a few Victorian hymns that fall under that description too, we include them here. But strange italics aside, there are some lines here that give us shivers even on the nth rereading. For years people have been trying to articulate the strange duality of the infant Christ, and for us this comes as close as anything to articulating His humanity and divinity simultaneously. If nothing else, it has nerve. That’s a great thing in poetry.

What do you think? Are we too hard on the italics? Is it altogether gloopy anyway? Let us know. We’re collecting opinions.

Lyrical Ballads in Peppermint

It’s late here, and the end of a long week. Christmas is approaching apace, and in the spirit of that we’re drinking something by the unlikely name of Candy Cane Crush. To be clear; we have no great love for candy canes. We think they were largely invented to hang on Christmas trees.

We do like this tea. Whereas the Moroccan Mint of earlier in the calendar was too minty even for us, this is a black tea with added peppermint, and it’s more like drinking a peppermint cream. Peppermint creams in liquid form are, according to us, an entirely acceptable way to greet Christmas.

It’s still Advent on the calendar though, so here’s that poem we’ve been promising, with hints -we think -of Advent in it. Snow, otters, dreams, and the journey we take on trust. We found it quite by accident the other day, but its opening lines won us over immediately. There’s almost a Lyrical Ballads feel to it, the glorifying of something as mundane as an otter in the river. See if you agree.

Midnight Snow

James Crews

Outside in the creek that feeds the lake
and never freezes, an otter slaps the water
with his paw to feel the current’s pulse—
Slip in, lie back. Slip in, lie back. He shuts
his eyes and obeys, knowing the layers
of hair and underfur will warm him while
he floats on a faith we wish could carry us.
The sound of his splashing fades, but not
his joy in being pushed, light as driftwood,
back to the mouth of the den I have seen
carved out beneath the roots of a fallen fir
now packed with snow and lined with leaves
that promise his sleep will be deep.
Because no dreams wait softly for me,
I open the woodstove and strike a match,
hold the bloom of the flame to kindling
that catches quick as my wish: To be that
slick body sliding into the lake that holds
the moon, bright portal to glide through
without so much as a shiver, no doubt
about where I’m going, how to get there.