“One Christmas was so much like another,” Dylan Thomas wrote. “… that I can never remember if it snowed for six days and six nights when I was twelve or twelve days and twelve nights when I was six.”
It’s true: Holidays do tend to run together as you accumulate them. But every one seems to have its own dynamic. In the moment, each holiday season is unique.
Our final poetry spread of the year has its own blend of voices: reflections on Christmases past, conversations real and imagined, appreciations (more or less) for Minnesota’s winter, images to stop us for a moment and best wishes for another new year.
If you’re looking for gifts I hope you’ll consider our collection of verse and illustrations, “SEASONS: Poems from the Southwest Poetry Project,” available at selected area stores or directly from firstname.lastname@example.org.
If you’re making resolutions for next year, please include sending us your best poetry. Dates and deadlines will be available soon at www.wilhide.com/Site/Poetry_Matters.html.
I didn’t see it coming.
First a question, then a favor,
then a chance meeting at that Oktoberfest party
where you stuck to me like glue
and bragged how you liked to dance.
I didn’t see it coming.
Even when you tracked me down
at that computer store and begged to have lunch.
Or the time you knocked on my door at midnight
and offered up some lame excuse.
I didn’t see it coming.
Until you blurted it out
over limp iceberg lettuce and cheap red wine
at that corner bar I hated so much
but where no one would see us.
It caught me off guard.
Like a guilt-ridden kid owning up to a lie,
your misery finally spilled out,
between visits from that nosy waitress
who couldn’t keep her eyes off you.
I should have seen it coming.
Like a back-ally junkie with nowhere to turn,
You wore me down a kiss at a time
and then disappeared in a flash
without having the guts to admit you scored.
I WANT TO TELL YOU
Nicole Lynne Storvick
I have a bottle of Pinot Grigio
and four cigarettes,
so I pace myself between sips and drags
by counting each blink of Christmas lights strung
around the sun porch,
and by writing lines of nonsense and love
in a journal with a peace sign burned
into its leather jacket.
I smoke, I drink,
I wink at the sandman dangling
like a pendant
around the wide neck of this December moon,
and then I think of you asleep
deep in the belly of your faraway bed …
I want to tell you tonight
in a dream
how the air tastes like a crisp white apple,
how it smells of pine and salt,
and how desperately
I wish I could button you up into my sweater,
to pinch your lips softly
with Pinot-laced poetry until you know me
you know me
as well as my pen
THE CHRISTMAS SCARF
At the bottom of the bag I uncover
an old scarf,
multicolored (red blue yellow),
loosely knit of thick wool
by young hands a long time ago.
It was our first winter together,
the scarf a gift to be worn on board ship
with a peacoat and a wool watch cap
for both the warmth and the love within it:
Not uniform regulation of course
but they let things slide at sea.
I wore it on night watches
crossing the winter-dark Atlantic,
wore it in the northern Med, under the Alps
(our course set for Barcelona)
wore it in high seas and ice storms
wore it searching horizons for lighthouses
and threading the straights of Messina
wore it leaning over chart tables in red light
wore it in gray pre-dawns, as we found
our way back again and again
to Norfolk and Narragansett.
But this day I’m looking for a newer scarf
less worn, smoother, more modern.
I choose one not hand made,
without stories, functional.
The old scarf goes back in the bag.
Landlocked now, I keep the memories warm,
and dress for later winters in later ways.
A CHRISTMAS TO REMEMBER
It was Christmas Eve 1944; I was seven years old.
Not a light, not a car was on the street;
It was so dark, Manhattan.
In our apartment black shades were drawn to show no light.
Fear was in the air. Still, it was Christmas Eve.
At about 3 in the morning, I heard a noise
The clopping of reindeer hooves, or was it a horse?
Then there was the tinkling of glass upon glass.
I parted the shade and peaked out the window.
Below it was the darn milk man and his horse-drawn milk wagon.
Suddenly, there was a flashlight —
It blinked up to the window; I was caught.
The air raid warden had me in his sights.
Mom & Dad would be in trouble, the whole apartment house;
We would be shunned. He saw me, shook his finger,
Closed his light and was gone. Phew!
Back to Christmas day. I lay in wait:
Claus this time I’ll catch you.
But no, he was already there.
Dawn came and there under the tree was my prize:
A huge cannon and then to top it off trains to share
And an electric record player.
Of course a set of Beethoven 9th symphony records
And the Five Hundred Hats of Bartholomew Cubbins,
Played every day to keep the enemy at bay.
That afternoon, uncles, aunts and cousins gathered..,
My two uncles, tough, stern men
Who served as members of the shore patrol,
My rascal uncle Frank, the prankster, and uncle Arthur
Who accompanied my father up the back stairs
To the apartment carrying a very large,
Throbbing, lashing creature with claws the size of boxing gloves.
They threw it into the bathtub and stared at each other.
Bolstered by some scotch,
They gathered around passing buckets
Of boiling water into the tub.
They invited my uncle the priest to give the last rites.
The women went into a rant and excused
Themselves from participating in this atrocity.
Once the deed was done,
With hammer and screw driver,
Giant lobster meat appeared,
Drenched in secretly acquired butter and lemon.
It was a worthy creature sacrifice.
We fed 30 cousins and their parents.
The sun shone,
The Nazi stranglehold on Bastogne was broken.
Fear was banished once again.
It was the best Christmas ever.
SCENE FROM A DEPARTMENT STORE PARKING LOT IN WINTER
She is saying no. Saying no
to the middle-aged man, handsome and
pleading in pea coat and scarf,
chapped hands hidden in pockets
just beginning to fray.
She is saying no, though
there is no shouting, no anger,
as their breath hangs
in the cold between them,
drawing one distance, then another;
and he is turning to leave,
on one heel, as though
he has forgotten
the simplest of motions.
He feels the stiffness,
feels the cold
clutching at his limbs
as though he has offended
even the air. She is saying no,
she is saying, I cannot
do this again, and
it will take years
before he will remember
that certain slant of sunlight
falling across her eyes, the very
sweetness in her voice.
ODE TO AN OVERRIPE PEAR
Meat is crushed by tongue.
Flesh is flattened by teeth.
Juice just barely sweet.
You’ve been on my counter
for almost two weeks.
Softened, mottled skin,
endless spots on skin,
stars beneath the skin,
until I can barely see them.
Just a touch of juice—
a kiss on my chin
a stick to my fingers
a lick to last
SECRET MUSINGS OF A
Sharon R. Spartz
I have always loved both the freshness
of arriving and the relief of leaving:
A redhead, I sometimes wonder
if anyone notices me,
dwarfed by tin soldier arborvitae
in front of a wild cherry and milky white
house where an American flag waves
to runners racing for the lakes,
young parents pushing babies in strollers,
boys on skates.
I do not envy pastel peonies
bursting with beauty
in the springtime breeze,
causing a stir among honeybees,
or crimson maple’s
But when a passer-by states,
“That is so pretty,” I sigh,
and realize it’s quite cozy
staying put in a pot:
a dose of daily water, warm sun,
and a panoramic view from this perch
on a bluestone step above a sidewalk
garden outlined in stone.
Old men on ladders
moving with the peculiar grace
of those who understand
they no longer bounce well.
Old women in the kitchen
risking what used to be ordinary
shutting the windows against winter
to hold oven aroma in the prospect of open windows.
Old children inventing new playground rules
building universities of joy and memory
yesterday becoming tomorrow each day
rules for tomorrow just a memory
we are prepared
just not ready.
I love the way we are here,
about snow, I mean.
By the time our age is double digits,
we’re experts on it.
And yet, familiar as we are,
there’s always a snowfall
that transports us to younger pasts.
That bounteous snow with enormous flakes
on a windless evening.
Clothing our world in white
as far as you can see.
All sound quiets as you take it in.
The crabbiest of grumblers are cheered
when they walk in this.
Standing near the light, you squint your eyes,
looking up, you instantly open your mouth,
drawing in this enchanting nature’s conjuration.
For this moment, it becomes
the most beautiful place on earth.
And the wonder of it to me is
it isn’t the only time…
RADIANT CHILD (for Eric)
…with your dark eyes and your morning smile.
…your dinosaur is still trapped beneath the laundry basket.
…bringing me Go Dog Go when I’m trying to work.
…with your questions about pirates and clouds.
…saying, “Hi, what’s your name?” to a passing stranger.
…making eyes with the young woman in the coffee shop.
…with your summer nights ahead of you.
…unaware when you’re being rejected by the older boys on the playground.
…excited to find a red pebble.
…bringing me pine needles which are actually blueberries and ice cream.
…asking to go to the record store with the toys.
…dancing to the Suburbs and the Rolling Stones.
…somehow already sentimental.
…frightened by the noise in the Chinese restaurant.
…laughing in your sleep.
…it’s going to be hard to give you to the world.
Doug Wilhide is the Poet Laureate of Linden Hills and contributing poetry editor for the Southwest Journal.