Christmas at Home

After seventeen years
of leaving town
the children stuffed
in their bright clothing
like packages
among the packages
in the overloaded wagon,
the cat at Lynn‘s feet
in her battered cage
preparing to hunt
Florida‘s tiniest reptiles–
we‘re staying home this year.

What a relief! The family
Christmas here, Mohammed
coming to the mountain.
We can leave things
till the last minute!
Not be such planners,
go to Macy’s
and buy six pairs of
panties and a bottle
of Pavlova on an impulse,
parting the thick crowds
on Christmas eve.

The house is decorated–
pine cones and garlands,
sleighbells, ribbons,
cinnamon sticks–
and a real tree,
expensive cut flower
we somehow afford
to focus the season.
The advent wreath
on the table
has had its pink and purple
candles knocked askew.

And the family arrives–
the group from Memphis,
sister and brother-in-law
by separate routes,
nephew with granny and
granddad making the day’s drive
up the interstate from
St.Pete — the drinks are poured
the nutmeg sprinkled,
and there is the general chatter
of friends sick, or died,
or getting better.

I go to work
on the day before,
knowing I’ll be
let off early,
and take the kids
to the daycare center,
still dark at 7:30,
at the bottom of the year.
It should be echoing
with parents’ reprimands,
the rustle of bags, footsteps,
children‘s shouts.

Instead there is
this living hush.
I never noticed it before.
Even my children
keep silent as we
walk in alone.
And when I leave,
still alone,
and walk to the parking lot,
I hear it again, like a wind,
or a distant car passing.

I had not remembered
such withdrawal, such
a shutting up.
Soon the offices will close,
the bank tellers
slide their gates across,
the guards jangle their keys,
the shoppers settle,
and it will be quiet.
As though God,
to herald the birth,
shushed the whole earth.

(The foregoing is an older poem from the mid-1980s which is very different from what I am trying to do now, but which must be claimed as my own. I thought it was appropriate for this time of year. I will be posting many of my older poems over time, interspersed with the new, to preserve and reclaim them.)

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