By Mary Jo Salter b. 1954
Wind whistling, as it does   
in winter, and I think   
nothing of it until

it snaps a shutter off
her bedroom window, spins   
it over the roof and down

to crash on the deck in back,   
like something out of Oz.
We look up, stunned—then glad

to be safe and have a story,   
characters in a fable   
we only half-believe.

Look, in my surprise
I somehow split a wall,   
the last one in the house

we’re making of gingerbread.   
We’ll have to improvise:   
prop the two halves forward

like an open double door   
and with a tube of icing   
cement them to the floor.

Five days until Christmas,
and the house cannot be closed.   
When she peers into the cold

interior we’ve exposed,   
she half-expects to find   
three magi in the manger,

a mother and her child.   
She half-expects to read   
on tablets of gingerbread

a line or two of Scripture,   
as she has every morning   
inside a dated shutter

on her Advent calendar.   
She takes it from the mantel   
and coaxes one fingertip

under the perforation,   
as if her future hinges
on not tearing off the flap

under which a thumbnail picture   
by Raphael or Giorgione,   
Hans Memling or David

of apses, niches, archways,   
cradles a smaller scene   
of a mother and her child,

of the lidded jewel-box   
of Mary’s downcast eyes.   
Flee into Egypt, cries

the angel of the Lord   
to Joseph in a dream,
for Herod will seek the young

child to destroy him. While   
she works to tile the roof   
with shingled peppermints,

I wash my sugared hands   
and step out to the deck   
to lug the shutter in,

a page torn from a book   
still blank for the two of us,   
a mother and her child.

Mary Jo Salter, “Advent” from Open Shutters (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2003). Copyright © 2003 by Mary Jo Salter. Reprinted with the permission of the author.

Source: Open Shutters: Poems (2003)

Discover this poem’s context and related poetry, articles, and media.

Poet Mary Jo Salter b. 1954

POET’S REGION U.S., New England

Subjects Family & Ancestors, Home Life, Religion, Relationships

Holidays Christmas

 Mary Jo Salter


Poet, editor, essayist, playwright, and lyricist Mary Jo Salter was born in Grand Rapids, Michigan. She grew up in Michigan and Maryland, and earned degrees from Harvard and Cambridge University. A former editor at the Atlantic Monthly, poetry editor at the New Republic, and co-editor of the fourth and fifth editions of the Norton Anthology of Poetry Salter’s thorough understanding of poetic tradition is clearly evident in her . . .

Continue reading this biography

Poem Categorization

SUBJECT Family & Ancestors, Home Life, Religion, Relationships

POET’S REGION U.S., New England

Report a problem with this poem

Originally appeared in Poetry magazine.

This poem has learning resources.

This poem is good for children.

This poem has related video.

This poem has related audio.