By Peter Halstead

So cosmopolitan.
The torchlit parade tearing
down the slopes
like lightning bugs,
Zermatt’s luciferin
bearing fire from the inns,
from the frothing casements
of chalets, from lanterns
tinseling the rugs
on tourists in the sleighs,
focusing the glory
of the misted town
on clumps of melting ice,
like boulders rolling
in the frozen stream,
gliding down the windows
in the Bahnhofstrasse,
off whose glass
our faces also seem as white
as snow, like paper angels
in the falling light.

October 3rd, 2021


Luciferin is the chemical that makes lightning bugs light. It’s a molecular chain reaction that produces bioluminescence in fireflies and is named for Lucifer, the light-bearer, the name of the morning star, and for Aphrodite. Lucifer was the greatest of the seraphs in heaven, cast out for his hubris by God. Lucifer was in charge of carrying and revealing the light. His rebellion against the order of things involved a third of the angels in heaven. He was arrogant even in his downfall, in which he became Satan, Prince of Hell. Milton has him saying, “Better to rule in hell than serve in heaven.”

Prometheus in Greek mythology was a Titan, a Giant, who stole fire from the Gods and brought it to mankind. He may have simply discovered that rotating a stick against a log would eventually produce a spark. Mary Shelley called Dr. Frankenstein the Modern Prometheus.

In Zermatt light is generated during a blizzard from lanterns, chalet windows, and a torch-light parade, where people ski down the slopes with torches in a long conga line. This tends to burn holes in your clothing but is a romantic diversion during winter vacation, and it is usually followed by much wassail, or hot buttered rum, at the bottom of the trail.

The poem came from a dream I had, complete with rhymes and stanzas, about ice clusters sliding down the outside of a chalet window, heated by the inside warmth enough to loosen their grip on the glass. My dream began with “Devil! Devil!” as Karen Walker would always exclaim in the TV series Will & Grace. This became “So cosmopolitan.”

Other things fall: skiers, boulders in the stream, snow, night, mankind in paradise.

The Bahnhofstrasse, or train station street, is the main street in Zermatt.

Cathy and I are the innocents in paradise, our angelic faces white with light, paper angels like Lucifer, seraphim of little resolve, decorations on the Swiss trees at Christmas. Our world is lit by Lucifer: luciferined. It is fretted with the fires of heaven, with stars. But also with the flames of hell. Our world can be deceptively sparkling. Like Lucifer, we are angels; but some of us are fallen angels.

In my poem, “Sparklers,” I mention “table lamps luciferined,” describing how the lights in Honolulu were fizzing over as I drove home after my eyes were diluted in the eye doctor’s office. I call this myoptics, how the world is blurred for people like Cathy and me who are myopic, or short-sighted. We are natural-born Impressionists.

The painter Claude Monet was myopic, and saw the world through an Impressionistic haze. He had glasses and a camera, but chose to paint the world as he had seen it from childhood, rather than the more focused world technology makes possible. We can “correct” our vision, but our first impressions, of a hazy world, seem to us more romantic.