A CHRISTMAS POEM
by Robert Bly (from Morning Poems)
Christmas is a place, like Jackson Hole, where we all agree
To meet once a year. It has water, and grass for horses;
All the fur traders can come in. We visited the place
As children, but we never heard the good stories.
Those stories only get told in the big tents, late
At night, when a trapper who has been caught
In his own trap, held down in icy water, talks; and a man
With a ponytail and a limp comes in from the edge of the fire.
As children, we knew there was more to it—
Why some men got drunk on Christmas Eve
Wasn't explained, nor why we were so often
Near tears nor why the stars came down so close,
Why so much was lost. Those men and women
Who had died in wars started by others,
Did they come that night? Is that why the Christmas tree
Trembled just before we opened the presents?
There was something about angels. Angels we
Have heard on high Sweetly singing o'er
The plain. The angels were certain. But we could not
Be certain whether our family was worthy tonight.
Well, Christmas is over. The goose got fat and the chickens and the children came home to roost and discover just how many stories that we’ve told ourselves for years are, in fact, inaccurate (at least if our siblings are to be believed).
This Christmas, I also learned that my older sister is the type of person who will back a truck down the hill and start randomly tossing perfectly good furniture and dishes and other random items out of my mother’s basement and into a pile destined for the dump.
Can I just say that it rankles my ass that my sister took it upon herself to decide what family items are disposable?
So I asked my mother if she was comfortable with this approach and she said, “Well, you kids can always sort through everything when I’m dead.”
... and I still don’t know if this purge was something Dee discussed with my mom or if she just decided that my mother doesn’t keep her house up to Dee’s gated community standards, and so took it upon herself to toss someone else’s stuff.
Some of the items were worth a fair amount of money and I knew I could sell them pretty quickly at an antique auction, so I grabbed what wasn’t already broken to sell for my mother—a nice, solid oak chair; a huge old jar like the ones that country store owners used to fill with pickles; a large distressed wooden box that I wrote my name in when I was, judging from my handwriting, six years old (which I might just keep for myself); brass and crystal and carved wooden doorknobs with accompanying brass plates; my father’s old hacksaw; a cool old Kreamerware kitchen tin with “Sugar” written on it in turquoise script, etc.
Many other items were already broken or buried at the bottom of the pile, just like the perfectly functional (and valuable) loom that Dee tossed on another one of her purges.
I escaped to the bad Chinese buffet, where I sat down with my plate of dumplings and promptly started to sob ...
.... maybe because I expect nothing and what I expect defines me—that’s a line from a Philip Schultz poem, not my own, and the problem is, I clearly expect something or this wouldn’t bother me so much
.... so maybe because I keep expecting something and nothing is what turns up (which is a Jesse X lyric: more of this: the same nothing. And more days. ... Dazed with sweet air, she'd forgotten how to count in English. Or any language.).
.. or maybe because I hate seeing my mother’s dysfunction on display but also recognize that tossing the evidence won’t make it go away.
... or maybe because I feel like an unrespected stranger that my family doesn’t even bother to try to know.
... or maybe because I feel guilty about abandoning them too.
I guess I could choose to comfort myself with the knowledge that Christmas has been about delusions ever since the Christians co-opted it from the pagans (which they originally did not to celebrate Jesus's birthday but because the Church needed to respond to a heretical claim that Jesus was only a spirit, as opposed to a body. Hence, they turned the pagan revelry into a celebration of their mythical savior's theoretical humanity).
Of course the Puritans outlawed Christmas altogether years later ... but I guess no one told this to the Fox commentators.
Anyway, happy fucking holidays y’all.