Messiah (Christmas Portions) by Mark Doty A little heat caught in gleaming rags, in shrouds of veil, torn and sun-shot swaddlings: over the Methodist roof, two clouds propose a Zion of their own, blazing (colors of tarnish on copper) against the steely close of a coastal afternoon, December, while under the steeple the Choral Society prepares to perform Messiah, pouring, in their best blacks and whites, onto the raked stage. Not steep, really, but from here, the first pew, they’re a looming cloudbank of familiar angels: that neighbor who fights operatically with her girlfriend, for one, and the friendly bearded clerk from the post office —tenor trapped in the body of a baritone? Altos from the A&P, soprano from the T-shirt shop: today they’re all poise, costume and purpose conveying the right note of distance and formality. Silence in the hall, anticipatory, as if we’re all about to open a gift we’re not sure we’ll like; how could they compete with sunset’s burnished oratorio? Thoughts which vanish, when the violins begin. Who’d have thought they’d be so good? Every valley, proclaims the solo tenor, (a sleek blond I’ve seen somewhere before —the liquor store?) shall be exalted, and in his handsome mouth the word is lifted and opened into more syllables than we could count, central ah dilated in a baroque melisma, liquefied; the pour of voice seems to make the unplaned landscape the text predicts the Lord will heighten and tame. This music demonstrates what it claims: glory shall be revealed. If art’s acceptable evidence, mustn’t what lies behind the world be at least as beautiful as the human voice? The tenors lack confidence, and the soloists, half of them anyway, don’t have the strength to found the mighty kingdoms these passages propose —but the chorus, all together, equals my burning clouds, and seems itself to burn, commingled powers deeded to a larger, centering claim. These aren’t anyone we know; choiring dissolves familiarity in an up- pouring rush which will not rest, will not, for a moment, be still. Aren’t we enlarged by the scale of what we’re able to desire? Everything, the choir insists, might flame; inside these wrappings burns another, brighter life, quickened, now, by song: hear how it cascades, in overlapping, lapidary waves of praise? Still time. Still time to change.
Mark Doty, “Messiah (Christmas Portions),” from Sweet Machine: Poems.
Copyright © 1998 by Mark Doty. Reprinted with the permission of
Source: Sweet Machine: Poems (HarperCollins Publishers Inc, 1998)
2009: The House of Christmas by G. K. Chesterton
2008: selection from "For the Time Being" by W. H. Auden
2007: A Christmas Carol by G. K. Chesterton
2006: The Journey of the Magi by T. S. Eliot
2005: The Stable by Sr. M. Chrysostom, OSB
2004: no poem, but a meditation of my own
2003: The Guest: A Christmas Prayer by Harold Monro
2002: no poem, but a meditation of my own