When we would go home for Christmas,
It was to my mother’s town,
Where I was the cousin with the Yankee accent,
Who didn’t like grits:
A gentle, Southern place:
Gracious lawns, winding drives
In our grandfather’s Buick, past the golf course.
I see a dim American past, parts best forgotten:
Cedar Christmas trees, trackless trolleys,
Water fountains “For Coloured Only”,
Maids summoned from the kitchen with a bell,
Bearing trays of puffy rolls.
Christmas would be over and we’d go back north,
New toys stored away, my mother crying.
A child’s Christmas in Metry
We called it then,
Until our girls, teachers’ kids, would catch on.
A plumbing contractor
Lavishes new wealth
To display for children and parents
Along the sidewalks of a subdivision
The lights, the moving creatures of Christmas:
In one room, Santa’s helpers,
In another, an animated crêche:
He watches, approving yet sullen,
Dimly seen behind the picture window.
It does not matter that his home is darkened now,
That other families
Who did not live in Metairie then
Now drive by another spectacle
All the more preposterous
Further up the same street:
Thousands of lights blinking,
Reindeer, elves, angels, God knows what,
A parish policeman sourly chants:
Keep moving, keep moving.
A downtown church on Christmas eve,
Well loved, well cared for,
Worshippers in fine clothes crowd together
In the old walnut pews– it is too warm for furs:
Married daughters, handsome nephews
In from Houston, people we do not know:
Of all the places one could be this night,
As lonely as any bus station or manger.
But there is this:
The particular tears of Christmas,
The precise fragrances, the harmonies
That make it palpable,
That release memory’s stubborn catch
Differ for us each
And for every home far from home.
I hear the sound, thin and sweet,
O Holy Night,
Scored for the voices of teenaged girls,
The white light of candles
Dancing on their faces.
A potato-casserole weariness
Settles in upon the land.
We are ankle-deep in tissue,
Love and Lego,
Lists of who gave what to whom,
And I am wondering what became
Of those cedar trees
We would cut and trim Christmases ago,
Those trips to my mother’s home,
The grits, the black-eyed peas, the puffy rolls.
Cedars gave way to
Scotch pines, then to
Fraser firs that fill a room.
Years later two cedars grow
Outside the door, wider and taller,
With strings of white lights
That do not reach as high
As last year,
Unmindful of the sacrifices
Of their forebears.
The Day After Christmas
Tree smaller this year,
Lights burned out,
Garbage can only half full
The day after Christmas:
Children grown, gone.
Christmas Night 2007
There are twelve of us for Christmas,
Three generations, ours the oldest.
A benign weariness:
Food and gifts, family jokes and tales,
Small stresses let quietly pass.
Cousins cavort, careen, compete.
Our daughters, friends too, consider vegetables;
Their husbands assemble a soccer goal
While the gravy cools.
As we are leaving, I think I see
Traces of a tear on Julie’s cheek;
Her smile lingers, quiet, faintly moist.
Robert Demaree is the author of four book-length collections of poems, including Other Ladders published in 2017 by Beech River Books. His poems have received first place in competitions sponsored by the Poetry Society of New Hampshire and the Burlington Writers Club. He is a retired school administrator with ties to North Carolina, Pennsylvania and New Hampshire. Bob’s poems have appeared in over 150 periodicals including Cold Mountain Review and Louisville Review.
You can find more of Bob’s poems here on Ink Pantry.