THE STARS BLINK white hot in a flawless black. Here, no city lights mar their brilliance. Still, their heat, trapped in unimaginable distance and time, warms little more than a poet's heart.
This morning, the morning of the Winter Solstice, the dog and I are out in the dark. The cold is palpable and we both make little frost clouds with every breath. He is doing dog stuff. I wait and stargaze, allowing my thoughts to meander like the Milky Way spread out above me. I bend down in the dark and pick up a log or two of firewood. This simple action triggers a strong memory of a young boy.
A small, skinny kid who had to fill a five gallon bucket with coal every evening at dusk. It was a time when coal was delivered to rural households by a dump truck. Big black rocks, with names like anthracite and bituminous, that were ordered by the ton, delivered and dropped in a pile. It must have been a cheap source of heating, back then. Back before it's reputation was so soiled.
The coal pile stood like a black mountain, intimidating and challenging. And invariably, most of the coal would be in chunks too large to fit into the mouth of the coal stove. They had to be broken. This was the boy's job. It was the job of his brothers before him and it wasn't all that rare to see his mama lugging that bucket up the hill. But when the task fell to the boy, he would pull on the brown jersey gloves blackened by a season's worth of coal dust and beat the chunks with a hammer that was always too heavy, until they split. There was an art in getting them to break just right. I don't recall if he ever mastered the technique, but my brain still registers the struggle. Again, time and distance often make things irrelevant.
The memory is fleeting, but I quickly pull off my glove, half expecting to see remnants of that black dust still embedded there. But there is nothing, just my hand, old and aged, and a strong desire to hold a piece of that shiny black rock again. It plays in the mind like a toy.
I look back up at the stars knowing that I am seeing only hints of what once was. I'm looking back in time. Some of those stars burned out long ago, but their light is just now reaching us. A beautiful legacy. Still, there's probably more dark and cold to the Universe, than light and warmth.
Again, I drift back, fifty years or so, to the world of the coal boy. It was a turbulent time. It was the sixties. War was raging and hate was spilling out all over. There were calls for peace. And then, I look to this time, the world we live in now. Wars are still raging and hate is still spilling out all over. And there are calls for peace. Not much has changed. What will shine forth when I'm used up? Will time be as kind as it has been to the stars?
With my face to the heavens, I realize this is a prayer. As the planet leans away from the sun, I lean inward. And as living creatures, we all need warmth and the light, even if only in a little corner of our mind. It's called hope.
I look down into the shining, black eyes of the dog and he lifts a paw as if in question. I say, "We're done here." Together we move inside, into this new season, trusting there will be warmth. Trusting there will be light.
Merry Christmas, Happy Holidays, and may Peace come to us all.
Pat Greenwell is an artist. A painter and sometimes poet, he has been searching the New Mexico desert for several years now, looking for lost possibilities and probable intentions.
"...mostly stream-of-consciousness stuff, you know...