Carole Goldberg wrote in the Hartford Courant, 14 December 2002: "You may be familiar with Advent calendars, which count down the December days until Christmas with little windows or doors that open to reveal a religious or holiday image. Rennie McQuilkin has created a book in which each page opens a different aspect of Christmas."

McQuilkin, an award-winning poet and former director of the Sunken Garden Poetry Festival, thinks of "Counting to Christmas" as a gift to friends, both known and unknown, at Christmas time. Though many of the book's poems have appeared in publications such as The Atlantic Monthly, Poetry, Prairie Schooner, The Christian Science Monitor, and Yankee, they were originally written as Christmas cards over a period of 25 years; and McQuilkin hopes they will carry some of their original intent.

The contents of the book are arranged in a sequential pattern, beginning early in December and progressing to Christmas Day. The poems may be read much as an Advent calendar is opened -- one a day during the pre-Christmas season. Printed on heavy, textured stock, this gift book is a work of art and contains a number of poems based on works of art. The collection is marked by both wit and lyricism, and is secular in tone -- one poem depicts a Zuni solstice ceremony and many others focus on the natural world, although a good number of the poems present traditional Christmas motifs.

Read some sample poems from the book.


ISBN: 0-9662783-3-x
Length: 44 pages
Binding: 5/5" x 8/5" chapbook style







A dozen apples in December

shrink and wrinkle, go from dark

to darker, hang by threads

no thicker than our own.

And yet how like to ornaments

a dozen apples in December

and how the sparrows, reeling,

wassail on the earth-gold wine

a dozen apples, aging, brew

beneath a low and southern sun.




after an early work by Mack Burns, age 4



He crayoned his first cr¸che in three parts.

All’s well at the top—the Firmament is

solid: heavenly blue. But the sky is trouble.

It’s full of what—stars or angels

swarming like a plague of leggy spiders.


Just above the manger is a star burst

of yellow from something like a Scud

incoming.  Part Three has the Baby Jesus

the size of his parents, his feet and head

protruding from a purple perambulator.


A lush brown, black-haired Mary,

her arms and one leg colored jaggedly,

leans forward as if to wheel the giant baby,

hissing to the blueblood blob of Joseph

“Let’s get out of here!”


The space around the shed is fire-orange

except for a—camel?  Brown as Mary

and humped high as the ridgepole,

it’s kicking a hole in the siding. To knock

sense into Joseph’s head?  Or show it’s


raring to go?  Maybe left by a Wise Man

after he informed on the king. But—

shouldn’t it be a donkey? A minor mistake.

Thank God for its headstrong headful

of a stall somewhere Herod never heard of.



for Gladys Egdahl



When the church burned down 

that December, town hall had to serve.

Rose pumped an old foot-organ so hard

she pounded the floor


above the heads of the drunks

in the lock-up below.

She meant it, was fiercely in favor

of God


but not of how

when God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen

ended, it didn’t

in the underworld,


accompanied by banging and jangling

of bars, slurring

into Away In A Manger off key

but softly


softly, until Rose played along.

This time she did her pumping gently.

Being six,

I said it was wise men. No one said no.





on Duddingston Loch at sunset

in black—black top hat and frock coat,

britches, garters, stockings, skating shoes

black. Except for pink laces

and the flush on his face, slightly deeper

at the ears,

he is black as his Advent sermon.


Oh yes, his scarf is white. And if I say the ice

is black, I mean it’s not, is in fact

a window for fish.


The Reverend has turned his back on the sky

between the hills, which is the color of his ears.


His right leg is raised, extends behind him

like the long tail feathers of some exotic bird.

He is leaning into the wind,

leading with the sharpened blade of his nose,

arms wrapped one inside the other.


Or so Sir Henry Raeburn, R.A., did him

in oils, c. 1794.


Those fine cross-hatchings on the Loch

are not from all the Reverend’s parishioners

celebrating after service, skating up a storm,

for the hills and the sky seem no less

skated upon.

It’s Time. As surely as ice, oils crack.


Nor is the clerical top hat what it was. Look

closely. You’ll find the ghost of its earlier brim,

painted out imperfectly, is aimed low

as if a moment ago the vicar was searching

for a flashy trout.


He has, it appears, raised his sights

to the deepening blue of night, or something

more distant. He dedicates a miracle

to it, no major miracle, mind you, but still


he makes his turn (notice the sliver of ice

kicked up by the heel of his skate),

has all but completed the figure 6

he means to raise

to an 8.


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