How did your trees fare? I’m asking friends and neighbors, our suddenly white Christmas trickling away. As with anything, trees have their dark side—and in my woodsy neighborhood, a gust of wind or rain (or snow, in this case) can down trees and strew branches like tinder. The Christmas Eve wonderland was less so when it coated my power lines, swaying unnaturally low. When my granddaughter’s sledding was cut short by a line dangling across the street, I thought of an old friend, 25 years gone. A swath of snow-white hair streaked dramatically from her crown, mark of a childhood sledding accident. Her spirit, blithe and knowing, lifted and grounded me when I needed it most, in my impulsive 30s. Her short life, so like a blazing comet, reminds me that we are each marked by some fated gash with the power to turn us whiteheaded overnight. That each beginning is seeded in the end of what we can’t imagine ending, a larva dissolving into itself before its shocked transformation. A comfort much needed as we limp to the end of the first pandemic year in most of our memories, with miles yet to go. In my backyard, the heavy snow split a gangly crepe myrtle, the burden of something so beautiful. The same weight I beat off my listing photinias and nandinas with the kitchen broom, though too late for the fragrant Mohawk viburnum, torn at the base. On my walk past magnolia and oak limbs in the boulevard, no break is ever clean—the parent body ripped in the violent dreamscape, heartwood exposed to chill winter. How will we fare in the next inch toward light, a new year I infuse with starlike hope? Even after months of dying and isolation, I still raise a glass to hope. Here’s to mending our fractures stacked at the curb as the might of wonder speeds on—our downhill rush over bump and rise, the blast of frozen air in our lungs and faces, openhearted as a child.
This winter solstice, our national psyche and our homebound selves hung in the balance. I took a breath, a break from doomscrolling, and sat on my porch steps. In a coincidence of speed, orbit, and axis, the Great Conjunction arrived the same night. Our two largest planets aligned a mere tenth of a degree apart and, as some believed, mirrored the Christmas Star of old, its prophecy an equal reverberation through eons. This momentous hinge between 2020 and 2021, even as the light increased incrementally, did little to unclench my body and mind. Without binoculars, I saw the flattened disc of Saturn’s rings approach giant red-eyed Jupiter, low in the southwest. Appearing almost as one as Earth tilted farthest, a time when first peoples huddled nearer their banked fires this longest, deepest night, not knowing when or if the savior sun would return to bless the land. I’ve experienced my own dire conjunctions up close and personal—estrangement from my mother, the passing of parents, uprooting of marriages—and now a global pandemic. And yet, what St. John of the Cross called ‘the dark night of the soul’ in the 16th century, and Buddhists today call ‘the lucky dark,’ is the brave candle I hold skyward for the best in us. Without this fulcrum of shadow and dawn, this seesaw of near-misses and collisions, we cannot grow to fully greet the morning that, like joy, always comes, though often years and tears down the road. Detours, stumbles, and grief may strip me to bare bone, but I’ve slowly, reluctantly friended the lucky dark, meaning gratitude, which floods in to balance what seems so wobbly but is in fact a great conjunction of peace, self-knowledge, compassion. Just as one troubled trip around the sun ebbs, the light inches forward. Even my neighbor’s bees know when to begin again. The day after the solstice, the queen, in her dark brood chamber, senses those few extra minutes of day and begins laying eggs for next season’s colony. Time orbits as it will, worldly upheaval or no, and the light in its sure return urges us to rebuild, repair, yes, rebirth ourselves from whatever ash we’ve become in our hard trying and doing. In the end, luck has nothing to do with it.
Poet, playwright, essayist, and editor Linda Parsons is the poetry editor for Madville Publishing and copy editor forChapter 16, the literary website of Humanities Tennessee. Widely published, her fifth poetry collection is Candescent (Iris Press, 2019). Five of her plays have been produced by Flying Anvil Theatre in Knoxville, Tennessee.
Header photo of by Dashu Xinganling, courtesy Shutterstock. Photo of Linda Parsons by Herman Miller.