Winter Solstice In the House of the Phoenix
(An Alchemical Allusion)
Summoned at last, I go, wrapped in my cloak of midnight velvet. I bring gifts for the household, and a gift for the chance-met stranger, honouring the ancient law. For the keeper of the door, a distillation of rainbows in a fiery spirit; for his goodwife, the song of a bird caught in crystal. For the stranger, the warmth of my hearth fire in a vessel of amber. For the alchemist, a book of secret wisdom. And for the master of the house, the blind physician, a golden flower, nourished with heart’s blood and watered with my tears.
My footsteps ring on the stones as I approach him. He is not so large as I had imagined, and older, his face lined with years and sorrows, his hair more silver than gold. His clothing is dark and plain against the splendour of the company, but he wears gold spectacles with lenses of emerald. He accepts my gift, smiling as I place it in his hands.
We file in procession to the place of the fire. One by one, our torches are extinguished and we stand together in darkness. From the silence his voice speaks and we answer, chanting the ancient words of faith and hope. Then comes a red glow, faint but strengthening, until by its radiance we see him again, and rekindle our torches from his glory.
Up and up, from the depths to the highest tower we climb, he before us, the vessel of flame, lighting the lamps anew, and the fire at the heart of the house. In the dance of new light we go singing to the feast, to lay our cares aside and come together in joy. For among us is the one who has died and lives again, radiant, rejoicing until the night ends in the red dawn of the new sun.
Last Greeting From Kingsport
I got an invite to a shindig last night, at Phoenix House, up on the hill. I wore my best black velvet duds. Good thing, ’cause everyone was togged to the nines. I brought presents, like you’re supposed to: rainbow liqueur for the guy at the door, crystal chimes for his missus, and a glowing coal in a brass pot to keep the beggar warm. For the old alchemist up there, a book of secret mumbo-jumbo; and for the man himself, that doctor folks say is blind, I brought my golden flower, the one that took seven years to bloom and nearly killed me.
He’s not such a big guy up close – kind of old and dressed plain, except for those emerald specs. I think he liked my present, but who knows. “A kindred spirit,” he said. “You will join us here before long.” And he smiled.
Then the lights went out and we all got torches and trooped down to the cellar. We doused our torches and stood by the rocks in the dark, breathing. Some party this is, I was thinking, when he started to sing and we all joined in, even me, who didn’t think I knew the words. After a while there came a little glow. It got stronger, until it was like a star in his hands, and we lit our torches from it.
We went up and up, into every room, lighting candles and lamps. Then the party – mountains of food and rivers of drink, like I never saw in my life. What a night! Music and singing and dancing until the sun came up, all new and red. He was everywhere with us, the wildest of all. (I don’t think he’s really blind, you know).
Merry Christmas to you and yours, and I hope the New Year is a good one. But I’m going back up there now, and I don’t know when I’ll be back.