Three poems to celebrate the season.
First, the darkness. It’s that time of year when the days are at their shortest, the nights at their longest. For many people, that’s a sad time. Not for Steve Matanle, though. Steve said he sat outside with his black notebook every night at around 3 a.m., writing about the emptiness and fullness, simplicity and mystery, stillness and motion of the night. He compiled several of those poems into Nightbook, which Passager published in 2011. Here’s poem vi from that book.
I love the mysteries
of the night,
the mystery of sleeping houses,
I love the mystery of shadows
scattered on the ground
as if the trees
had been undressed
by the moon,
and the blossoming
like a bride
before the wedding,
I love the
mystery of things
I can’t see,
of roots, writhing
in the dark ground,
and the harp-
strings of starlight,
like the thoughts of
unable to sleep,
the mystery of the highway
the silvery sound of driving.
I love the mystery
of my heart,
like a red horse.
I love the mystery
the moon sinking
under the weight of
its own light,
the last star left
in the sky
like a kiss
that wants only
to last forever,
soft flirtatious light
. . .
Poem number six, from Nightbook, by Steve Matanle.
Passager published Sarah Yerkes’ book Days of Blue and Flame in 2019 when she was 101. She’s even older than that now and still writing. Here from that book is her poem “Christmas on Kauai.”
I’ll not forget assembling
for Christmas, far away,
the tribe of energetic boys,
the screeching as they play.
They hurtle through pellucid air
and surf the blue-green sea,
weave arms and legs in wriggling mass
Although I cannot hear a thing,
it pleases me no end
to see the laughing and the jokes,
the older ones, true friends.
They even cook together,
an odd concept to me,
delicious meals are flavored
Mingling with my progeny
on this enchanting isle
the gathering has poignancy,
a tear and then a smile.
It is, perhaps, the very last
my old bones can attend.
To speak of this, they are aghast—
Gram’s coming to an end?
. . .
“Christmas on Kauai” by Sarah Yerkes from her book Days of Blue and Flame.
After publishing its literary journal for 15 years, Passager expanded its press in 2005 to publishing books, as well. Passager’s first book was A Cartography of Peace, by Jean Connor, also her first book. Jean was 86 at the time. And 15 years later, she’s still writing poetry, too. Here from Jean’s book is the poem “New Year’s Day.”
On this, the first day of the New Year,
I’m glad to share the world
with the exuberance of geese, snow geese
flying overhead, honking as they go.
Surely a salutation is due them,
even if they are flying north,
when they should be flying south,
even if one ragged line is flying
west to no place
that makes sense,
considering the cold, the onslaught
of winter, the easy mirage of stubbled
fields of grain or green. The geese,
we assume, know what they’re
doing. So we can anchor ourselves anew,
in our rightness, feet down, firmly
placed, erect, waving our caps
in the air to the geese overhead,
confident as the old year passes,
crying, “Happy New Year”
to them and to us,
not needing a straggling V formation
to teach us what matters is
“We are here! Here!”
. . .
“New Year’s Day” by Jean Connor.
To buy Steve Matanle’s Nightbook, Sarah Yerkes’ Days of Blue and Flame, or Jean Connor’s A Cartography of Peace, or to learn more about Passager and its commitment to writers over 50, go to passagerbooks.com. You can download Burning Bright from Spotify, Apple and Google Podcasts, and various other podcast apps.
Before we end this episode of Burning Bright, here’s Passager’s co-editor Mary Azrael.
Passager is a small literary press dedicated to bringing you the voices of older writers, a generation vital to our survival. As a Passager editor for thirty years, I’ve come to know remarkable people, ages 50 to 103, through their poems, stories, memoirs, and letters. What they say has enriched my life—and yours, too, I hope.
Please join me in celebrating the season’s tradition of kindness and generosity. Even a small donation can go a long way to sustaining us. Every time you read Passager journal or one of our books, you’ll be reminded how you have been part of it. Go to Passagerbooks.com and click on “donate” at the top of the page.
It’s the season of giving. We hope you’ll give to Passager.
For Kendra, Mary, Christine, and the rest of the Passager staff, I’m Jon Shorr.