Magpies and Snow

on the morning that will lead to Christmas Eve. I’m surprised to wake to a white world this morning, after last night’s walk under a clear and starry sky. Something moved through while we slept, and maybe took with it some of the heaviness and left the rough chattering of the magpies.

We have yet to put up the tree and wrap the last gifts. But weirdly all I want to do is make something beautiful. And, as always, desire outstrips both ability and talent. Maybe it is appropriate that Amadeus is a Christmas film in my mind. Certainly a film for the winter season. Maybe the threat of wasted mediocrity can be a drive in-and-of-itself? Maybe some of us need a patron saint of Effort? We need to know less-than-excellence is still worthwhile.

A humble, worn begging bowl is a thing of unique beauty, isn’t it?

This year has been stitched together at points of pain. Losses. Abrupt and imperfect endings. And I suppose beginnings that are easy to overlook if one isn’t attentive to possibilities. I’ve been wondering if there is no such thing as a false start. In the same way that there is no such thing as a “failed” marriage, if one approaches life as growth and change and experience, rather than a map of set mileposts toward an obituary: this is supposed to be your wonderful life. Yeah. That Christmas movie that’s all about shirking your fate if you can’t suck it up through the hard times, give into your circumstances, and trust bow-tied, bushy-browed old men who claim to be angels.

It strikes me as ironic that all of us are storytellers. Ourselves as the heroes in everyday encounters. And yet I can’t seem to write a story. My character isn’t woven into given circumstances, and I can’t seem to plot a satisfying arc.

Maybe there is no arc, though there are arbitrary meeting points that matter very much. It seems to me that waiting for them, letting them come, and having faith in their covert significance is our obligation.

I guess that is why I feel pulled toward poetry. These knots of drama and of peace. Pearls on a string. Life as a room full pre-Islamic “hanged poems”* written by individual ghosts: each of arbitrary length, representing arbitrary lifespans. Each with a qasidah’s lack of plot or narrative.

Here is my search for an artistic home to that inevitably leads me to misunderstandings, accusations, and a keener sense of alienation.

In theatre history class I facilitate discussions on appropriation. But in movement class, I teach square breathing: the alternating states of movement and stillness, and the recognition that there is also life in stillness. In the waiting. I try to explain to my students: just wait. Don’t engage the glottal stop, don’t bear down in your throat, just stay open… and wait.

It’s not even a metaphor for life. It is life.


The snow absorbs sound waves. But the magpie’s bellies chatter like shakers in an improvised concert. The front yard is filled with tension. A drama without narrative.

The magpies are quiet now.

Wait.

They will begin again. Like barren Shakers, they’ll gather and make something beautiful.

Then they’ll be gone. Again.

Just wait.


*It is interesting that the phrase I found today was “hanged poems”, when I have been taught that the past tense of hang is hung and that the only thing hanged are people. The more common term is “The hanging poems”, which of course is immediate and… haunting.

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