Arts & Culture · Poetry

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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