Every year my mother would stack up the Messiah
on the turntable at Christmas; I’d crank it louder
when “He is Like a Refiner’s Fire” came on—
those swooping runs of voice, longing and terror both.
It thrilled me, believer without belief: the thought
of some great burning that awaited, its purging
and afterwards its bliss—what would endure
revealed as hard and lucent, entire at last,
less than itself and more. And back at school,
in chorus, the mass of voices poured through me
until I felt my mind departing, senses wholly
merged with the flare of sound, its rising,
its hallelujah—while outside, light struck the river
as ice floes drifted southward, white and silent.
I’d stand against the window, forehead on cold glass,
that bright remoteness firing me beyond myself
and the whole muddled future I still had to make.
At home, the red- and green-wrapped presents waited,
and our plastic tree, fetched down from the cold attic.
On the mantelpiece a garland and brass reindeer
kept watch by our menorah; bulging stockings
disgorged a gift each evening; I waited for the night
my father would drive us around to see the lights
and we’d cry “Supergoy!” at the tackiest displays,
delighted with ourselves. I was happy then. But still
I waited for some power to appear, reducing
the blur in me to ash. I didn’t know its name,
just that it would be merciless and I must love it.
I looked out for its flicker at the edge of things—
biding its time beyond our mingling, melted life,
past the suburban woods where we went walking,
snow stamped into earth and leaf-mold by our tread.
by Anne Myles
Editor’s Note: Pure delight is always necessary, and this narrative poem delivers it with delicious imagery and beautifully considered line breaks.