Solstice of the dark, the absolute
Zero of the year. Praise God
Who comes for us again, our lives
Pulled to their fisted knot,
Cinched tight with cold, drawn
To the heart’s constriction; our faces
Seamed like clinkers in the grate,
Hands like tongs—Praise God
That Christ, phoenix immortal,
Springs up again from solstice ash,
Drives his equatorial ray
Into our cloud, emblazons
Our stiff brow, fries
Our chill tears. Come Christ,
Most gentle and throat-pulsing Bird!
O come, sweet Child! Be gladness
In our church! Waken with anthems
Our bare rafters! O phoenix
And burning in the dark,
Be born! Be born!
William Everson (1912–1994) was an American poet who gained fame in the San Francisco literary renaissance of the 1950s, being classified as part of the Beat movement. Deeply influenced by the poetry of Robinson Jeffers, he wrote about the California landscape, nonviolence, the biblical narrative, and erotic love. He was married twice before converting to Catholicism in 1948, and in 1951 he entered the Dominican Order as Brother Antoninus. However, to pursue a romantic relationship with the woman who would become his third wife, he renounced his monastic vows in 1969, returning to secular life but maintaining his Christian faith and his poetic vocation. He also wrote literary criticism, taught at university, and founded a small press. His collected poems are published in three volumes.
I saw an exhibition last year of Delita Martin’s work at the National Museum of Women in the Arts in Washington, DC, and I was so taken by it. Though this piece wasn’t included, I was able to get a good sense of Martin’s unique technical approach, which combines printmaking, drawing, painting, and hand-stitching. The strength of African American women is a key theme in Martin’s work, as are African tradition, community, memory, and the spirit world.
Sister, here’s a song for the long night Sister, here’s a song for the longest night Sister, here’s a song for the long night And I’ll sing with you till the morning comes
Brother, here’s a prayer for the long night Brother, here’s a prayer for the longest night Brother, here’s a prayer for the long night And I’ll pray with you till the morning comes
Mama, here’s a dream for the long night Mama, here’s a dream for the longest night Mama, here’s a dream for the long night And I’ll dream with you till the morning comes
Father, what’s your wish for the long night? Father, what’s your wish for the longest night? Father, what’s your wish for the long night? And I’ll wish for you till the morning comes
Neighbor, here’s a hand in the long night Neighbor, here’s a hand in the longest night Neighbor, here’s a hand in the long night And I’ll build with you till the morning comes
And I’ll build with you (We will sing) Till the morning comes (We will pray) And I’ll build with you (We will dream) Till the morning comes
Dan + Claudia Zanes [previously] wrote this song last year during the early waves of the COVID-19 pandemic, premiering it as part of their Social Isolation Song Series on YouTube the week of George Floyd’s murder. It is included on the duo’s debut album in a version that features a kora solo by Amadou Kouyate.
A song of consolation, “For the Long Night” is especially fitting for December 21, the shortest day (longest night) of the year in the Northern Hemisphere. Sometimes it feels like we’re traveling through a night with no end, with no dawn on the horizon—but realizing that there are others in our boat, making the journey with us, is a tremendous encouragement. Together we must continue to sing, pray, dream, and build “till the morning comes.”
This year for the first time I learned about the Christian tradition of Blue Christmas / Longest Night services. Typically held on the winter solstice (either December 21 or 22), these services hold space for grief, whether over relationship loss or fracture, the death of a loved one, physical or mental health struggles, racialized hate and violence, financial hardship, loneliness, disappointment, or anything else. They also gesture toward hope and healing.