You won’t find the Christmas place
in a box sporting eight tiny reindeer wrapping paper
though a close examination of
the fingerprints on that paper
will lead you
down the proper path.
Not in the twinkling lights on the neighbor’s lawn
but perhaps in the basement of the power plant
that drives all those twinkles where someone
waits for the shift to end and daydreams
of the way those nightshirts smell
as the children sleep in a pile
on the leather armchair by the tree.
Maybe a wicked soul dressed in fine wools and leathers
or an angry man with a weapon and a purpose
or the Lonely One with the disordered mind
will rest on Christmas Eve
and do the work of greed, madness and sorrow on another day.
Forget for a moment that
a tiny child in swaddling clothes,
his parents huddled near and breathing
in shallow unison on the dusty hay,
will make cups and chairs and tables
when he grows to do the hard work of adults.
Forget for yet another fleeting moment
that as his compensation
for working hard and making
things and providing wise counsel,
the same tiny child will one day
be nailed to a pair of trees through his palms
and lanced by careless men with swords
until he calls out to his emotionally distant
father to complain.
All this makes a fine story
but a story lived by many among us
without such excellent public relations
and much smaller fan clubs.
At some juncture in that state of mind
which is Christmas proper
we should take note
of the man hunched at the end
of the bar,
his hands beautiful with crimson lacerations,
scarred and stained
and burning matches one by one
dropping them to the ash tray and
drinking with a purpose.
He has shavings of white oak and
black maple and Honduras mahogany in the cuffs
of his overalls, but that
is another matter altogether.
Look down the bar again and recall the words:
“The Son of Man came eating and drinking,
and they say,’ Behold, a gluttonous man and a drunkard,
a friend of tax collectors and sinners!
But wisdom is justified by her children.”
and his grin spreads wider
when a stranger recalls him from
his reverie along the lost highway of the mind
with the offer of
a drink to share.
It is always on the walk home through
the snow, the air itself crackling with chilly, distant
that it comes to you in a rush
some feeling to do with
wood shavings and the smell
of burning candles but not a feeling
you can keep in a box
or dress in eight tiny reindeer wrapping paper.
And so this is the way of the world,
and a hard way by all accounts,
but decorated also with
delicate ornaments seen through the gauzy haze
of youth and memory.
The way the lights diffused
through the screened porch door
with the Christmas spruce behind it
and those people casting shadows on the floor
a beacon to the Christmas seeker.
But near the end of the
journey to the Christmas place
look to the women
as they seem to hold
some ineluctable droplet
in their hands
which on the closest inspection
can be seen the inverted
reflection of snowflakes falling outside
and of tawny loaves
upon the kitchen counter…