Joyful Hanukkah

Suddenly the season has become winter. Six inches of snow fell overnight yesterday. My neighbors have built a snow hut in their backyard tall enough that I might be able to stand upright in it. While I was shoveling out my driveway yesteray, three teenagers pulled in next door and got uproariously stuck in their own. They had come home to get sleds, and they were whooping with laughter and falling in the snow.

I stopped at the bakery on my way to work and got stuck in the lot, and two kind men in woolen hats heped get me loose again. The whole day felt like a snow day, even at midnight in the newsroom. Like a holiday.

So for the holidays I wish us all time to shovel snow and moments of calm and moments of glee — times when a job feels elatedly right and times to rest.

And most of all, a blessing on any who are feeling the holidays as something new, or for the first time.

A wish for your son’s first nights
For Rachel

When you sit, all three wrapped in blankets,
in the early dark, blue on the shoulders
of the hills, letting pillows hold your heads,
and listen to the bubble of his breathing,
let the quiet instill warmth, in the new way
tinder and cardboard on the hearth kindle.

Your husband brings in wood. You light the candles,
sing she’hecheyanu and tuck in blankets.
While the candles burn, you may sit this way,
one head against your thigh, one on your shoulder,
and hum with the resonance of their breathing,
your hand on his head, your head against his head.

You know tonight and need not count ahead.
One candle for each night and one to kindle
make nine, one for each night he has had breath,
one for each night tired men in muddy blankets
paced a stone floor, rubbing knotted shoulders,
waiting for a light to fade away.

Because one oil lamp would not burn away
you slide a hand behind an infant head
supporting with a hand behind his shoulders
so he can see the sinking of the candles
as they settle into waxy blankets.
You kneel to feed the hearth fire with your breath.

You whisper over him the words you breathed
over the candles and tell him the way
to sing them, as you burrow into blankets,
all three of you. Your husband strokes your head.
You close your eyes and small reflections kindle
behind your eyelids as he rubs your shoulders.

Let soft wool lie lightly on your shoulders.
Let you feel, all three, the same soft breathing.
In astonished dark small lights are kindled,
until tonight you circle this slight weight
who rests in a palm and cannot raise his head.
Tell him long after he outgrows these blankets

how you stroked his head beneath the blankets
while night slipped away. How you felt his breathing
against your shoulder. How he kindled the night.

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3 Responses to “Joyful Hanukkah”

  1. rbarenblat Says:

    I love this poem a lot. Thank you, Kate.

  2. am Says:

    I’m here by way of Velveteen Rabbi. Your poem is truly a joyful Hanukkah blessing. Thanks so much.

  3. sue swartz Says:

    This is beautiful. For whatever reason, the simple line “Let soft wool lie lightly on your shoulders” did me in.

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