Putting up a Christmas tree
when you’ll be gone
for Christmas is a bit like
taking your sister to
the prom. The ornamental
satisfaction is the same
or nearly the same.
Your house, a gangly
teenage boy, is all dressed up
and presenting its corsage—
the lights a kind of doorbell
for the eyes. But the tree
pities you, or you pity it.
With no gifts below, it’s
like the man ringing a bell
outside Walmart. (If
salvation’s an army,
there are many deserters…)
You and the tree both know
that, after some dancing
and some punch, absolutely
nothing will happen.
Every dream is platonic,
and every prayer, a wise guy.
No heart can ever be king.
Here are sweet peas, on tip-toe for a flight…
–John Keats, “I Stood Tiptoe upon a Little Hill”
Peas make carbonara divine: a little sweetness,
a little green, a little pre-masticated mush.
Yet alone, like bachelorettes flirting nakedly
with a bowl—no, thank you. I’d rather eat pebbles….
Well, tonight they arrived by frozen ambulance:
a kind of Santa, though not for the mouth,
that ridiculous chimney, but for the hand or arm.
A coldness so kind it can pull you from the past
and its roiling riptide, deliver you by nerve-ending
to the shore, to certain sand. Years ago,
at Christmas, in foster care, a much older boy
who’d been sodomized by his father brutally
attacked our son. Ever since, it’s been a season
of infected needles—the tree a hospital all lit up,
the whiteness of oblivion calling and calling…
(When the sky dissociates, Humpty Dumpty
accumulates on the ground.) Although I loathe
the boy for what he did, I know that the attack
was nothing more than paying for the meal of the car
behind at a drive-through in hell. Happy Holidays!
As our son flailed on the couch, threatening to put
his head through a phantom window, the peas
arrived on their sleigh and beat back the demon
with their one and only gift: the present. Our son
looked up at us and smiled, then looked down
at his hands in wonder—none of us can ever quite
believe this tactile trick. Once as a boy, coming
out of anesthesia, he typed on his computer
(he doesn’t speak), Easy breathing forever.
We were at the dentist. For years, he couldn’t
tolerate anything human in his mouth. Now,
opening the door to his bedroom and watching
his chest rise and fall, angry at myself for becoming
angry with him, tired as spent tinsel, I think
of my friend’s mother who insisted that the last line
of “Silent Night” is sleep in heavenly peas.
Ralph James Savarese is the author of three books of poetry: Republican Fathers (Nine Mile Books); When This Is Over (Ice Cube Press); and, with Stephen Kuusisto, Someone Falls Overboard: Talking through Poems (Nine Mile Books).