’Tis that season: Time is short; daylight is scarce.
There are celebrations — commercial, communal, spiritual and otherwise — to plan for and enjoy. We slip along layers of memory, while looking forward… to serious winter.
This collection includes poems about work and play, Christmases past and present, remembering those who are no longer with us and cuddling with those who are.
Enjoy! And happy holidays!
Doug Wilhide is the poet laureate of Linden Hills and poetry editor for the Southwest Journal
The frigid night releases Desperado
who slides between the sheets.
Ever-so-slowly she glides her toes
toward her lover who snores & sleeps.
The rise & fall of his sinewy chest
gives courage to her plan —
which is to snuggle ever-so-close
to the heat rolling off her man.
If her mission is successful
and temptation can be tamed;
frozen feet, ever-so-cold,
will thaw and live again.
Stealthily, silently slides her toe
in search of its chosen need.
While unsuspecting Romeo
lies in slumber’s sweet flower & weed.
Under the covers in darkness
Desperado surrounds her foe.
Both love and hate beguile her
as she tries not-too-far to go.
Those feet on that sightless journey
do find the prize they seek.
And ever-so-greedy they scurry
to the source of that slumbering heat.
A voice EVER-SO-LOUD in the darkness
SHATTERS the still of the night.
Desperado’s frozen caresses
have given him such-a-fright!
After a time he returns to slumber
and the oh-so-frigid cold will go.
Once again he lies snoring & sleeping.
as he snuggles his Desperado.
Melissa S. Anderson
The young bagger has packed most of my groceries.
Next in line, two sweet girls about his age wait patiently.
He picks up my packet of bay leaves,
and then leans toward the girls
to ask if it’s theirs.
No, it seems they are not buying bay leaves
to go with their chocolate doughnuts.
Still, it’s good that he checked, just in case.
Christmas Quartet: Four Voices
Grandfather, the Reverend Doctor of Divinity,
was a man of serious bearing,
a mainstay of Methodism, though hard of hearing.
More a booster of bottom lines
than a saver of souls,
he was sought after by struggling congregations
(the affairs with church secretaries notwithstanding).
What I remember was the candle-lit quiet
of the Christmas eve service
after we sang o holy and silent nights
and said a final Lord’s Prayer
in the pine and cedar scented air.
There was always so much anticipation
chasing those childhood Christmases —
hope and laughter, silliness and seriousness
anxiety and all manner of frustration.
Our wish list varied year to year and
was more or less fulfilled. I always got socks.
What we really wanted, I suppose, was simple:
love, just love
embodied, realized — the truly personalized gift
ours alone to receive
ours alone to give
ours alone to believe
love, just love.
That first Christmas you spend
truly and completely away from home
New ourselves, we spent it in a new city,
with new friends, new jobs,
new places to go, new things to do,
and with — now — newly distant families.
We loved each other, cheered each other up,
cooked for each other and decorated for the big day.
But even with long distance phone calls
Christmas morning felt empty. It didn’t snow.
“We need a baby under the tree,” one of us said.
By the next Christmas we had one.
The holiday pageant still gets staged
in its confused and awkward,
but now more inclusive, way. Kids today.
This year Joseph had a growth spurt:
he looked like a new birch tree and his clothes didn’t fit.
Mary had a crush on one of the shepherds
who came down sick.
The real sheep were brought on stage and…
while everyone took selfies
with the sheep, the cardboard camel,
the incongruous snow
on the fake palm trees…
they misplaced the baby Jesus.
— for Carol
Carolyn Light Bell
We pored over it together in her dining room,
she patient and careful,
I less so…finding the light dim and my eyes weak.
In our laborious way, we separated antennae,
thoraxes, abdomens and wings.
Since our time was measured,
I prolonged my work, each correctly-placed piece
a disappointment, like when you turn the page
to the last chapter of a book you love,
When she died, I asked her husband if I could bring it home,
the laser cut beauty,
full of fanciful butterflies to dust our dreams
with their magnificent wings.
Under my Luxo lamp’s intense light
on my drafting table, slanted just so,
I worked alone,
fitting the funny dogs and running men and gearshift shapes
into red and green and blue butterflies.
It might have taken the two of us many months.
But I felt an urgency to finish,
as if her soul were unable to rest until it was complete.
Her presence lingered.
I felt her next to me, working, beaming.
“Aaah…good for you…”
as I found the spot for each precisely-chiseled piece.
When it was complete, I took a deep breath,
had it framed and gave it to her husband
who burst into tears.
“She wasn’t supposed to die.”
But I knew she’d found her place
among the butterflies…
glorious, colorful, afloat.
A leaf falls – and nobody cares.
A leader falls – and everyone stares.
Books of history show the photographs –
Prime ministers, world war, soldiers trying for laughs.
What matters is the leaves.
Throughout November, the sun moves –
Bright as a night-time camping lamp,
Slow as a watchman walking with a limp –
And silence settles throughout the house,
Tilting towards its winter stillness.
The pipes are wrapped against the cold.
The window-wells are caulked and sealed.
The leaves are gone. The warmth is gone.
The sun completes its rounds, and it moves on.
To the Guys Who Work Outside
James P. Lenfestey
The meteorologist, surrounded by fake flakes
of studio snow the size of goose down, shows
off the map behind him blue with Arctic cold:
the whole week not above nine degrees.
Yet, right at eight, the Carhart men arrive,
daffy duck boots thick with insulation, thin
gloves so fingers can handle tinsnips,
they climb swaying aluminum ladders
and soon the power saw cuts new gullies
for new downspouts as old shingles fly
like scabs, tar steams in pails, and a new
sheet metal cricket silences leaks two
decades old in the abandoned chimney.
Adding another generation to the life
of a hundred year old house, so when
the current inhabitants are wheeled
down the sturdy stairs for the final
exit, the real estate agent will say how well
the owners maintained this place, how they
repaired the old leaks of a century past,
really buttoned it up.
But we will know it was the men in Carharts
in bitter cold who did that work, who made the future
snug with the smoke of breath and the scritch
of ladders leaning on the old house as they climbed.
What’s the Difference
I’ve heard people ask what’s the difference?
Upon Reading James Finley in Cabo San Lucas
I get up in the morning and touch my feet to the floor;
the sun rises pink in the sky.
In the distance a pair of flamingos honk, heralding this arrival
And I wonder:
Is this ordinary experience of an utterly ordinary event,
this press of calloused skin on cool Mexican tile,
the mystery of God manifesting itself
in — and as — this very ordinariness?
I settle into a webbed chair, blue,
on the balcony of Pueblo Bonito Blanco.
In the manicured grass below,
the sun kisses the flamingos’ shell-pink feathers.
With inarticulate certainty in the pit of my stomach
I realize my eternal oneness with God;
the clarity of seeing something beautiful
and immediately knowing:
It is beautiful.
Can the old leaves
lay upon the yard?
Can the basement
Can dust rest thickly
upon tables and shelves?
Can fuzz balls gather
unharmed in every corner?
For once, can literature,
dreaming and art
Can writing poetry
be a priority?
No one extends their arms in the air
and screams “metaphor” all the way down,
but there it is:
like the road that grows rigid
the more who travel upon it,
like the fiscal upslope
after an exuberant spending spree,
the unintended flip —
the face plant that dashes
attainment of the goal,
the safety bales at the bottom
that the passing dogs of parsimony
sniff at and whiz all over,
and the wag, still moaning “metaphor”
like a patch of bare ground
on an otherwise gleeful glide,
piling simile upon simile
like bodies that heap
at the end of the ride.
And when spring comes and all melts,
nothing to do but drift on down
among minnows and mud turtles,
ducks and dragonflies,
for a few miles, at least, until
what’s for dinner? and where are the boys?
and how did THAT happen? and who can I call?
and, then, there is that waterfall…
Twelve Strokes to Midnight
Fire-crackers pop, Chinese lanterns light
the way and we’re hungry to feast
on epiphany. Three times
the gong begs the bronze bowl.
Casper, Melchior, Balthasar,
the priest cries, and writes the names
of the Magi above our door.
May light bless this house.
I listen and listen for the farthest
sound of the bells, the farthest beat
of the drums, and the pulse
of the dance to rise up in all nations.
Confess hunger, confess war, confess
the thief, confess the poor, confess the lost,
the broken. Listen for the sound that begs
the hungry bowl and feast on epiphany.
Freddy Mercury In Church
Are — you going to Rapture me at last?
Now – or when the Tribulation’s past?
Are you going to let it all hang out?
Archangel Mike, are you about to give your shout?
Archangel Gabe, are you about to blow your horn?