burning the xmas mash

burning the xmas mash

Robert Creeley reads William Carlos Williams's 'Burning the Christmas Greens' during a lecture on poetics at the University of Buffalo in 1990. Layered under the audio, a recording of Williams reading his own poem, way back when. (If the player doesn't load, click here.)

Burning the Christmas Greens

Their time past, pulled down

cracked and flung to the fire

--go up in a roar

All recognition lost, burnt clean

clean in the flame, the green

dispersed, a living red,

flame red, red as blood wakes

on the ash--

and ebbs to a steady burning

the rekindled bed become

a landscape of flame

At the winter's midnight

we went to the trees, the coarse

holly, the balsam and

the hemlock for their green

At the thick of the dark

the moment of the cold's

deepest plunge we brought branches

cut from the green trees

to fill our need, and over

doorways, about paper Christmas

bells covered with tinfoil

and fastened by red ribbons

we stuck the green prongs

in the windows hung

woven wreaths and above pictures

the living green. On the

mantle we built a green forest

and among those hemlock

sprays put a herd of small

white deer as if they

were walking there. All this!

and it seemed gentle and good

to us. Their time past,

relief! The room bare. We
stuffed the dead grate

with them upon the half burnt out

log's smouldering eye, opening

red and closing under them

and we stood there looking down.

Green is a solace

a promise of peace, a fort

against the cold (though we

did not say so) a challenge

above the snow's

hard shell. Green (we might

have said) that, where

small birds hide and dodge

and lift their plaintive

rallying cries, blocks for them

and knocks down

the unseeing bullets of

the storm. Green spruce boughs

pulled down by a weight of


Violence leaped and appeared.

Recreant! roared to life

as the flame rose through and

our eyes recoiled from it.

In the jagged flames green

to red, instant and alive. Green!

those sure abutments . . . Gone!

lost to mind

and quick in the contracting

tunnel of the grate

appeared a world! Black

mountains, black and red--as

yet uncolored--and ash white,

an infant landscape of shimmering

ash and flame and we, in

that instant, lost,

breathless to be witnesses,

as if we stood

ourselves refreshed among

the shining fauna of that fire.