Saturday, December 4, 2010

My Christmas Ghosts and Some Great Poems

"In the Palm of Your Hand, The Poet's Portable Workshop" by Steve Kowit


"The poet Dylan Thomas defined poetry as 'the rhythmic, inevitably narrative, movement from an overclothed blindness to a naked vision.'"  ~From:  "In the Palm of Your Hand" by Steve Kowit, page 11

The Tooth Fairy
by Dorianne Laux

They brushed a quarter with glue
and glitter, slipped in on bare
feet, and without waking me
painted rows of delicate gold
footprints on my sheets with a love
so quiet, I still can't hear it.

My mother must have been
a beauty then, sitting
at the kitchen table with him,
a warm breeze lifting her
embroidered curtains, waiting
for me to fall asleep.

It's harder to believe
the years that followed, the palms
curled into fists, a floor
of broken dishes, her chainsmoking
through long silences, him
punching holes in his walls.

I can still remember her print
dresses, his checkered Taxi, the day
I found her in the closet
with a paring knife, the night
he kicked my sister in the ribs.

He lives alone in Oregon now, dying
of a rare bone disease.
His face stippled gray, his ankles
clotted beneath wool socks.

She's a nurse on the graveyard shift,
Comes home mornings and calls me,
Drinks her dark beer and goes to bed.

And I still wonder how they did it, slipped
that quarter under my pillow, made those
perfect footprints...

Whenever I visit her, I ask again.
"I don't know," she says, rocking, closing
her eyes. "We were as surprised as you."


I Like My Own Poems
by Jack Grapes

I like my own poems
I quote from them
from time to time
saying, "A poet once said,"
and then follow up
with a line or two
from one of my own poems
appropriate to the event.
How those lines sing!
All that wisdom and beauty!
Why it tickles my ass
off its spine.
"Why those lines are mine!"
I say
and Jesus, what a bang
I get out of it.

I like the ideas in them,
my poems,
ideas that hit home.
They speak to me.
I mean, I understand
what the hell
the damn poet's
talking about.
"Why I've been there,
the same thing," I shout,
and Christ! What a shot it is,
a shot.

And hey,
The words!
I can hardly stand it.
Words sure do not fail
this guy, I say.
From some world
only he knows
he bangs the bong,
but I can feel it
in the wood,
in the wood of the word,
rising to its form
in the world.
"Now, you gotta be good
to do that!" I say
and damn! It just shakes
my heart,
you know?

~From:  "In the Palm of Your Hand", pages 44, 45


My Christmas Ghosts, or, My Last Best Christmas

Christmas is coming and I try to get into the spirit of it all, I do.  I try, but every year, no matter how determined I am to not be sad, the old, familiar sadness comes and settles over me like a cloud.  Not a good, puffy, light cloud, but a dark, obsidian cloud.  My father died in late November when I was 6 years old and Mama sat me and my two older sisters in the front row at the grave and I sat there horrified as they lowered my Daddy's body into the cold, hard ground.  Yes, bad dreams followed.  (I'd dream I was running down the hall of our old home and something horrifying was chasing me.  There was broken glass on the floor, I was barefoot, and I could only run in slow motion.  A terrifying dream for a small child.) 

We went to live with Mama's sister and her family on their farm, my Aunt Mace and Uncle Warner.  Their two children were grown.  We had one good uncle was a carpenter and fisherman...and he caught an 80 pound Catfish that year in the Red River and I got what I'd asked Santa for:  a beautiful, tall bride doll and my first purse.  (Remember bride dolls?)  It was the last best Christmas of my life.  I was in the second grade. 

The following year Aunt Mace's son and his family were driving home for Christmas (they lived out of state) and were hit head-on and killed by a drunk driver in Meridian, Mississippi.  Their son, daughter-in-law and two children all died in the horrific car wreck.  We attended two double funerals the week before Christmas:  the mother and her one month old infant son, Ronnie, and the father and his 2 year old daughter, Bitty Bess the following day.  My four cousins were all dead.  My Daddy was dead.  I developed a supreme fear of death and had recurring nightmares for years.  I began to get up every night to check my mother's breathing to make sure she was alive...Aunt Mace and Uncle Warner had taken Mama and her three girls in, yet they lost their son and his family.  It just didn't seem fair.  Then life got even harder.  Their only other child, Linda, died in childbirth a couple of years later.  Another funeral and a motherless infant.  For the remainder of my childhood, the adults all pretty much stayed drunk.  And now, looking back, I can't say as I blame them much although it wasn't much fun at the time.  I think that's why I don't drink.  Too many drunks in my childhood.  I don't know how they kept on living and breathing after such monumental tragedy.

They're my Christmas ghosts, these dead relatives from my childhood.  They haunt me annually and I often wonder what life would have been like had they lived.  I can't not think of them.  Mama used to say, "I hate Christmas!" every year.  I guess it sank into my subconscious.  I don't hate Christmas, but I could use a good Exorcist if any of you know of one.




"The past is never dead. It's not even past." ~William Faulkner


The past is not a package one can lay away. ~Emily Dickinson


"The past is a foreign country; they do things differently there." ~Lesley P. Hartley, The Go-Between, 1953



lakeviewer said...

I do understand these feelings. Though, with a little exorcism, and a little cash, things can change for a little while.
Let yourself reminisce, sing your blues and drink your hot toddy. This too will pass.

p.s. love the background music,though I don't recognize the singer.

Marion said...

Oh, Marion...I can so relate to this post. My beloved daughter died on December 30...each Christmas and New Year's, even after twelve years, is just plain tough to get through.

I love "The past is not a package one can lay away". I try, believe me, I try, but I'm not sure I even want to lay that package (my daughter) away. It's too difficult.

Thank you for this post. It's made me think this've had some really tough times as a child. Thank you so much for sharing such a difficult story.


Eric Alder said...

As Dickens showed us, we all need our ghosts at Christmas.

Rather than lamenting people as being gone, revel in them being inevitably drawn back to visit us, especially during the holidays.

(After all, isn't that what YOU would want to do, if you were a spirit?)

Our memories bring them near to us again; they never truly leave us.

Jos said...

How I would like to believe in the ideas Eric has written here. Perhaps he is right. I remember reading about a faith system where people go every year to visit the graves of their ancestors. They picnic together setting small offerings to one side for those gone before them. It would be so comforting to believe that our inter-connectedness transends death.

I am sorry that this time of years awakens such painful memories Marion. That others are making merry must make it even worse in a way. It can make us feel isolated in our pain when others are so blithely unaware.

I hope you will still find some measure of joy ... perhaps in seeing your own children over the holiday season?

Warmest higs to you. xx Jos

Angela Catirina said...

My childhood friend wrote this recently on her FaceBook page:

" I
wish heaven had a phone, so I could hear your voice again. I thought of
you today, but that is nothing new. I thought about you yesterday and
days before that too. I think of you in silence, I often speak your
name, all I have are memories and a picture in a frame. Repost this if have someone in Heaven that you miss."

I replied:

"I remember your dad. I know he's never left you. He is the angel on your shoulder guiding your way. He was a gift. Not all girls get a dad as devoted as yours. He's always by your side - this I know. :0)"

I think that sometimes people are taken from us to watch over us from another realm - to guide us through the journey we have not yet completed.

Marion said...

Thanks, all, for your comments.

Marion, I didn't know that about your daughter. I'm so sorry for your loss. Time seems to stand still for certain events, no? Sending hugs and blessings...

Eric, I wish it were that simple. I often tell my husband I'll haunt him if I die before he does. :-) Thanks for stopping by!

Jos, I know. I do enjoy the holiday with my family outwardly. It's not something I can explain to my kids, as, thankfully, they've experienced little death in their lifetimes...mainly older relatives who'd lived full lives. I was amazed when my husband told me, when we were first married, that he'd never attended a funeral! I thought, well, you know what I thought. Until his grandfather died in his 90's, he'd never attended a family member's funeral. Life goes on. Thanks for your visit. Blessings!

Angela, that's a really beautiful thought. Daddy left me his love of books, I guess. He had ROOMS full of leather-bound books (which were all sold, unfortunately). I know my Aunt Mace visited me in my dreams, but not the others. When my daughter gave birth to her daughter, Mary Mace, Aunt Mace came to me in a dream and was holding Mary Mace and rocking her and she told me how proud she was of me. It still makes me tear up to think about it. I love and appreciate you, my sister-friend. Blessings!! xoxo

Kelly said...

This is heartbreaking, Marion. Both the first poem and what you shared of your childhood.

I know I can't really say anything, but I can pray for your comfort.

There's not ever a "good" time to die, but I've always been thankful that neither of my parents died near a holiday. There are some years now that I don't even think about it on the actual day.

Sending you love and (((hugs))) my friend.

Woman in a Window said...

Oh my, Marion, that first. Oh my. And I've got nothing left.


Shaista said...

Dear Marion,
Just to say I am thinking of you at Christmas time, with all these ghosts of the past, and yet the constant stream of nurturing poetry you provide for your readers, and the humour too! I absolutely loved the Jack Grapes poem!
I learn of so many new writers and new ways of seeing from you xx

raven said...


What you shared about these monumental tragedies of your childhood. It's difficult
to say something comforting.

But I will keep you in my thoughts and heart.


Debrah Riddleton said...

Dear Marion:
I read three times the poem by Jack Grapes. I swear that each reading different things told me that added the each other. I felt fantastic. In fact, we all want more of our own poems, probably sound more authentic, closer to us and we make every time more ours. Beautiful selection! Beautiful reflection!
Warm greetings: