A Vigil for a Starry (Christmas Eve) Night

A Vigil for a Starry (Christmas Eve) Night

On a night when the clouds cover the stars like an impenetrable mountain cliff, I wait for a sign. A small tinge up my spine. A desperate plea for the ancient ways to speak once again. I wait for the light, hoping it will come, hoping it will be enough. .

The stars, spread brightly out like colored snowflakes flickering across the onyx sky, reflect a distant constellation, and begin to re-enter the atmosphere, piercing through the fractured clouds, giving faint and distant light to the voidless black, the empty sea, the sandless desert, the vacant abyss that is deep within me. The light, hushed and dimmed by a millennium of travel, is all I have. Is all I ever had.

I wait for the reflection to reach me, hoping one refracted beam from a star long ago still exists, the same ancient light that awakened the shepherd’s eyes one cool and lonely night. Can the light that ushered in a new millennium, awaken a new epoch within me. If so, it might be enough for my heart to go on.

In the midst of tears, in the solitude of our inner being, we yearn to be on that impoverished hill, to understand the magnitude of that sight, a heavenly light illuminating a darkened heart, a heavenly chorus rising to a crescendo of glory.

Will I choose to believe its truth, not blindly though because I know what the light can do for one’s soul.  And though the unbearable pain releases not its grip, I have a question to answer. Does the light still exist for me?

Does the same sky, which God ripped open that night with his right hand, planting angelic heralds of peace on the clouds to rustle awake the shepherds, still exist for me? Can he reach into my clouded heart and announce the truth like a heavenly chorus? If it is so, all suffering and cause of angst still present throughout the world will be no match for the blessed announcement: “A Child is born.”

PERSON: This child is born.

A Photo and a Description

I posted this photograph the other day when I highlighted that northern Vietnam was my favorite place in Asia:

rice field workers thai nguyenIt made me think of the opening paragraph of my new novel, The Reach of the Banyan Tree, set to release this coming summer. I’d be curious to hear what you think of the two of them, the photo and the description. Here goes:

This part of the Vietnamese countryside has witnessed little change through the centuries. The crooked-back peasants face another daunting day every time the sun slips over the eastern ridge, greeting them with stoic reminders of the paddies which need tending. The giddy, shirtless, barefoot boys still ride the water buffaloes out through the paddy ridges to find slivers of green grazing that will keep the beasts contented until the next time they are needed to plow-under the sun-baked soil, readying the field for another planting. The dawn illuminates a village, which awakens like a colony of ants, miles to go to feed themselves for another day. The crows overhead witness the ants, scurrying out from underneath the palms which shield the single-story cement dwellings from the relentless afternoon sun. The busy-bodies hunker down in the fields, women side by side with sister and aunt, neighbor and cousin, donning the cone-like, pointed straw hats, which protect their face from darkening in the heat of the day. The dainty hands, each with a single stock of rice seedling no more than six inches tall, skillfully pushes the heroic staple into the mud until it settles in the place where it will thrive and grow, giving the planters their rewarded survival. They owe their lives to the blessed crop which gives them sustenance; they owe their age to the cursed crop, which robs them of years and sentences them to curved backs and ridged, hard skin. This is the land of their ancestors; a canvass of paint so vivid, so real, so far removed from the toil of the modern masses. These people have become one with the land, one with time, one with each other as they etch out a noble existence for which two thousand years of Vietnamese history owes them much.

 

Description: Draft Writing from 3rd Novel

Here’s a teaser. I shared this paragraph at the writing workshop last night. It’s just a draft description of the Vietnamese countryside which may eventually make its way into my third novel – currently in process. I’d appreciate your comments.

This part of the Vietnamese countryside has witnessed little change through the centuries. The crooked-back peasants face another daunting day every time the sun slips over the eastern ridge, greeting them with stoic reminders of the paddies which need tending. The giddy, shirtless, barefoot boys still ride the water buffaloes out through the paddy ridges to find slivers of green grazing that will keep the beasts contented until the next time they are needed to plow under the sun-baked soil, readying the field for another planting. The dawn illuminates a village which awakes like a colony of ants, miles to go to feed oneself for another day. The crows overhead witness the ants, scurrying out from underneath the palms which shield the single- story cement dwellings from the relentless afternoon sun. The busy-bodies hunker down in the fields, women side by side with sister and aunt, neighbor and cousin, donning the cone-like, pointed hats which protect their face from darkening in the heat of the day. The dainty hands, each with a single stock of rice seedling no more than six inches tall, skillfully pushes the heroic staple into the mud until it settles in the place where it will thrive and grow, giving the planters their rewarded survival. They owe their lives to the blessed crop which gives them sustenance; they owe their age to the cursed crop which robs them of years and sentences them to curved backs and ridged, hard skin. This is the land of their ancestors, a canvass of paint, so vivid, so real, so far removed from the toil of the modern masses. These people have become one with the land, one with time, one with each other, as they etch out a noble existence for which two thousand years of Vietnamese history owes them much.

Life on the Hudson: A Description

I wrote this last summer as I was taking in the views of the Hudson River just north of New York City. It was a descriptive writing exercise. I’d appreciate your thoughts.

A majestic brick manor sits high on the banks of the Hudson River at the Tappan Zee – the broad river expanse – miles across – which spreads the Hudson like a lake – wide and proud commanding the sight line of all who stand above it.  The house is red brick, with white, oak trimmed windows and porches – the river-facing porch upheld magnificently by two solid pillars of oak, round and smooth – near obelisk-like, except for the shingled roof which connected the two with a wide, angled canopy. Three stories with enough rooms to hold many stories of their own, the mansion is nestled between assorted fruit and hardwood which shields it enough from the wind but still affords it a splendid view of the water below.  Four chimneys reach high from the four corners of the house reminding one of intimate talks and treasured moments on the bearskin rugs beside the crackling embers.

Over the bank, on the cusp of the river sits a white, wooden gazebo, intricately carved, replete with matching white benches attached directly onto the sides, slotted with smooth, rounded spindles spun meticulously on the lathe of a splendidly skilled carpenter.

The gazebo sits on the edge of a long wooden dock which juts straight out into the pale, stagnant rim of the river.  The dock affords a lovely spot for a picnic lunch, a short paddle excursion to the beach or a place exquisitely designed for pondering the remarkable beauty of the Hudson River Valley.

If a certain writer with a penchant for pondering would sit, feet dangling, pen and paper in hand, waiting for the muse to come, what would he see?

A vast, sparkling sea, slow moving, half glittering with shiny shards of light flickering quickly back and forth.  A darker, shadowed portion, water exposed to the shielding of the hill behind it which covers its light from the early morning sun.  A single boater, paddling long and swiftly, leaving a lonely line on the smooth canvass, not unlike that of a jet leaving its mark across the blue empty sky.  A swift moving train, clinging to the distance shore, moving steady and quick, like a row of ants, purposeful, pushing, a slow moving bullet in a straight line, barely above the shimmering reflection of the water, almost as if it too is gliding on the water like a chain of floating boxes.

An expanse above in sky blue.  An expanse below in jittering light – dark and bright.  A forested hill in the distance separating the two.

This is life on the Hudson.

 

Practice Writing – Niagara Falls

Besides just writing – as in writing novels or plays, etc… I came to the realization that I wanted to do some writing that targeted what I perceived as a weakness of mine – descriptive writing. I’m a fast writer; it flows and I can whip off pages of dialogue in no time. But I always felt less confident in description.  Description is tricky. You don’t want to lay down the wrong silly metaphor that will distract the reader.  You don’t want to be repetitive. You do want to be vivid in your descriptions and you want to connect images in people’s minds so a reader can really imagine the scene being depicted before their eyes. In other words, good descriptive writing is hard work.

Last summer, when I had some extra time on my hands, I forced myself to sit and observe. Later, when I was at my computer, I recreated using the written word the scene I had witnessed. It was a fun exercise and I learned a lot about description.  Here’s one I wrote after visiting Niagara Falls. This is written from the perspective of a man who is witnessing a scene he wishes to share with his lady.Let me know what you think.

Because insurmountable circumstances prevented you from attending the outing to Niagara Falls, I will, with your permission, attempt to give you a small descriptive canvass of what you missed.  Through this poor attempt, I hope you will be satisfied in your curiosity of this treasure of a site until the day presents itself when we will both be able to enjoy the views together.

Since the views of the falls themselves are well known and clearly documented, I will pull back slightly from the hub of attention and settle upon a small stretch of land nestled next to the Niagara River, which leads to the great American Fall. 

So with that in mind, we shall start on a bench; a green, wood-slatted bench sitting a near hundred paces from the river.  If you, my dear, were sitting on the bench, this is approximately what you would see.

The foreground is blue ash, with a thick canopy of brilliant green which shields all but sparkled sun upon the ground – the green ground with frolicking grey squirrels scurrying up and down the ash as if some impending doom loomed on the horizon.  The ground is Irish green with a thick matted top perfect for picnicking or gazing at the main attraction – the commanding river.

From that bench, the green above and the green below form a narrow view finder from the stone bridge on the left to the brink of the falls on the very right.  This narrow, landscape view is bright in the towering sunshine, perfectly framed by the green.  The river draws the attention of all who pass by.  Its pull is near magical with its swift moving white caps which twirl around the occasional jutting rock.  The white spray of the rapids create what appears to the naked eye as little white fountains, spouting up in near cylindrical form, overflowing themselves and feeding back into the treacherous moving stream which flows and pulls and prods itself to the brink of the falls which sits at the furthest point on the very right of the view-finder.  In the foreground on the right, the crest of falls creates a constantly moving, downward-curved-push of awesome power.  The water is intense, white, emerald, dropping out of sight into the cavernous canyon below.  In the background, sits a glimpse of the Horseshoe Falls, nearly completely blocked by thick, hurricane induced mist which rises like a cloudy wall separating the far Canadian side from the American born.

From the bench, one view is not enough.  Two nearly entices ten more.  And before you know it, an hour gazing at the beautiful, mystic strip of imagination is quickly gone. 

But if you were present, two would go twice as fast.

Until that day, this must suffice.