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Poetry Sunday: “Advent,” by Mary Jo Salter

Advent

Wind whistling, as it does
in winter, and I think
nothing of it until

it snaps a shutter off
her bedroom window, spins
it over the roof and down

to crash on the deck in back,
like something out of Oz.
We look up, stunned—then glad

to be safe and have a story,
characters in a fable
we only half-believe.

Look, in my surprise
I somehow split a wall,
the last one in the house

we’re making of gingerbread.
We’ll have to improvise:
prop the two halves forward

like an open double door
and with a tube of icing
cement them to the floor.

Five days until Christmas,
and the house cannot be closed.
When she peers into the cold

interior we’ve exposed,
she half-expects to find
three magi in the manger,

a mother and her child.
She half-expects to read
on tablets of gingerbread

a line or two of Scripture,
as she has every morning
inside a dated shutter

on her Advent calendar.
She takes it from the mantel
and coaxes one fingertip

under the perforation,
as if her future hinges
on not tearing off the flap

under which a thumbnail picture
by Raphael or Giorgione,
Hans Memling or David

of apses, niches, archways,
cradles a smaller scene
of a mother and her child,

of the lidded jewel-box
of Mary’s downcast eyes.
Flee into Egypt, cries

the angel of the Lord
to Joseph in a dream,
for Herod will seek the young

child to destroy him. While
she works to tile the roof
with shingled peppermints,

I wash my sugared hands
and step out to the deck
to lug the shutter in,

a page torn from a book
still blank for the two of us,
a mother and her child.

 

Mary Jo Salter, “Advent” from Open Shutters (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2003). Copyright © 2003 by Mary Jo Salter. Reprinted with the permission of the press. Order Open Shutters at Penguin Random House.

Listen to Garrison Keillor reading this poem here.

 

51w34yzqpjl-_sx345_bo1204203200_Poet, editor, essayist, playwright, and lyricist Mary Jo Salter was born in Grand Rapids, Michigan. She earned degrees from Harvard and Cambridge University. A former editor at the Atlantic Monthly, poetry editor at the New Republic, and co-editor of the fourth and fifth editions of the Norton Anthology of Poetry, Salter is the author of many books of poetry, including A Kiss in Space (1999), Open Shutters (2003), A Phone Call to the Future (2008), and Nothing by Design (2013) which can be ordered here. Her second book, Unfinished Painting (1989) was a Lamont Selection for the most distinguished second volume of poetry published that year, Sunday Skaters (1994) was nominated for a National Book Critics Circle Award, and Open Shutters was a New York Times Notable Book of the Year. Salter has received fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts and the Guggenheim Foundation and taught for many years at Mount Holyoke College. She is currently a professor in the Writing Seminars at Johns Hopkins University.

 

 

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