Christmas Eve, with Owls: Poetry by Robert DeMott

Image of great horned owls by John James Audubon

Christmas Eve, with Owls

“I rejoice that there are owls. Let them do the . . . maniacal hooting for men.”
—Henry David Thoreau

In deepening shades of rose and magenta,
evening steals across Appalachian foothills
in this little tucked-away corner of Ohio we call home,
and a slivered moon, like a nail filing,
catches itself in the bare limbs of backyard trees
where last night in our grove of pines and oaks
a pair of great horned owls kept up their hoo-hooing,
the beat-beat of their bass drum carrying way beyond
our wrapping presents and offering holiday cheer,
finally echoing at the margins of our sleep,
that moment before the moment after,
when the last stirrings of children in our house—
eager for what they hope dawn will bring—
settled to quiet, and my love and I entered at last
a room inside a room, where we wondered if
our life on earth was ever-blessed as the good books say,
or only a brief dream, fearful and uncertain,
laden now by chill winds and more news
from our feathered pair, their dirge traveling
oceanic distances and blue-black star roads
this night of all nights, in this year like no other,
toward us, toward you.

In memory of Bob Bertholf, Helen DeMott, Jim Harrison, Mari Lyons, and Thom Steinbeck.

“Great Horned Owl” from John James Audubon’s Birds of America. Designed by Textual Healing.

Robert DeMott About Robert DeMott

Robert DeMott is Edwin and Ruth Kennedy Distinguished Professor Emeritus at Ohio University. His academic writing includes books, articles, and introductions to editions and anthologies of John Steinbeck that represent the best academic writing about Steinbeck in this generation. His books of poetry include News of Loss (1995); The Weather in Athens (2001), which won the Ohioiana Poetry Award; and Brief and Glorious Transit (2007). He lives in Ohio and fly fishes in Montana.


  1. Richard Astro says:

    This is a truly wonderful poem on a similarly wonderful and timely card. Bob has been a friend and colleague for nearly a half-century, and getting my own card from him this week was a real joy. I’ve been in a rehab facility after total knee replacement – hardly a pleasant surgery but necessary and so far beneficial and with plenty of time to read and watch the unbelievable coming changes in our government. While ludicrous on the one hand, they are frightening on the other. If ever there was a need to raise an affirming voice about who we, as Americans, really are – it’s now and in the New Year. Happy holidays, even if in the face of uncertain future, to all of my Steinbeck friends.

    • Richard Astro is emeritus professor and former provost at Drexel University and, like Robert DeMott, an internationally acclaimed academic whose pioneering research on John Steinbeck and Ed Ricketts cleared the road for today’s ecologically minded scholarship on the subject.

  2. Lovely work, Bob. My wife and I have vivid memories of the screech owls at night in the Virginia woods. I remember one day on a jog we saw a dead one by the side of the road. We were surprised to discover how small it was–maybe eight inches high, with a head the size of a ping-pong ball. All that racket from such a tiny creature. Astounding.

  3. A lovely poem, Robert, reflecting the somber mood of these times. I’m the editor-in-chief of Reed Magazine and I’d like to publish the poem with your permission. Please contact me. Thank you.

    • Cathleen Miller teaches creative writing and directs the Center for Literary Arts at San Jose State University. Reed magazine, “the oldest literary magazine west of the Mississippi,” is affiliated with the university.

      • Irene Donohue Jurczyk says:

        Thank you for publishing the evocative poem by Robert DeMott, and for the information on Reed magazine. I miss my subscription to Sun. I’ll check out Reed.

  4. Steve Hauk says:

    I am glad this hauntingly lovely but troubling poem is in memory of good people.

  5. Thank You!…..

Speak Your Mind