Merry Christmas

A forgotten child’s Christmas in Wales.

On the Outside Looking In

As I walked home, it started to snow. Not the pure white fluffy snow of a pretty Merry Christmas card, but the dodgy, slippery mixture of rain, snow, and ice pellets that turned the steep streets of Swansea into ice slides and traps for the elderly. I turned up the collar of my coat, bowed my head, and stuffed my hands into my pockets. Two houses before my own, I stopped in front of our neighbor’s house.
The window shone, a beacon in the gathering dark. I drew closer, pressed my nose against that window and looked in. A Christmas tree, decorated with lights, candles, more decorations, a fire burning on the hearth, two cats curled up warm before the fire, presents beneath the tree, stockings hanging from the mantelpiece. For a moment, my heart unfroze and I felt the spirit of Christmas. Then I thought of my own house. Cold and drafty. No lights, no decorations. No fire. The snowball snuggled back into my chest and refused to melt.
            When I got home, our house stood chill and empty. My parents were out at work and the fire had died. Nothing was ready for Christmas. I sat at the kitchen table, took out my sketch book and began to draw, then color. When my mother came home, I showed her my picture.
            “Very nice,” she said without looking up.
            “But mum, you haven’t really seen it.”
            She stared at the picture again. This time, she saw the Christmas tree and the lights, the cats before the fire, the candles burning on the mantelpiece, the decorations and the presents wrapped and waiting beneath the tree. But she never noticed the little boy standing outside the house in the falling sleet, cold and shivering, peering in through the window.

Comment: Everyone remembers Dylan Thomas’s story A Child’s Christmas in Wales, but not all Welsh Christmases are like that. This is the story of a forgotten child’s Christmas in Wales. It is a story about a latch-key kid, left alone at Christmas to fend for himself. I enclose the drawing he did and I dedicate the story to anyone who is alone this Covid-19 Christmas. Christmas spent on your own is not much fun. Looking through another’s window, from the cold street outside, is not much fun either. So, at this time of year, let us remember those who are lost and lonely, those who need a kindly smile and a helping hand, those who do not have the comfort of family and friends, a warm wood fire, or a cat or a dog to snuggle up to them, to lick them, and to wish them ‘all the best’ in the languages that all animals speak on Christmas Eve, and sometimes into Christmas Day. Phone a friend, nod to a neighbor, and may your Christmas season be filled with joy.

Absence

Absence

My body’s house has many rooms and you, my love,
are present in them all. I glimpse your shadow
in the mirror and your breath brushes my cheek

when I open the door. Where have you gone?
I walk from room to room, but when I seek,
I no longer find and nothing opens when I knock.

Afraid, sometimes, to enter a room, I am sure
you are in there. I hear your footsteps on the stair.
Sometimes your voice breaks the silence

when you whisper my name in the same old way.
How can it be true, my love, that you have gone,
that you have left me here alone? I count the hours,

the days, embracing dust motes to find no solace
in occasional sunbeams and salacious dreams.

The Exact Word

Le mot juste

Searching for le mot juste
the exact word that sums it all up, 
catches the essence of the thing 
and holds it in the mind forever.

Think flowers. Think scent. 
Think of the limited ways 
we describe how daffodils
lift and clematis clings.

I look across the breakfast table 
and see my wife of fifty years, 
a teenager reborn, walking into 
that café where we had our first date.

I search my memory and my mind 
for the words to describe that beauty, 
that surge of excitement, 
I still feel when she enters the room:

but find I cannot find le mot juste.

Comment: I shortened this poem from its earlier version. You can click on this link to compare the two versions. I am always puzzled by the dilemma of lengthening or shortening. My thoughts center on the longer and shorter versions of some Raymond Carver stories. Follow the editor’s advice and cut all material down to its essential bones or fill out the skeleton with flesh and blood and expand the creative process further. I also think of the exhortation to ‘stay in the moment’. Anything that takes the reader away from the central experience is superfluous. Experienced writers are aware of that moment and its importance. Writers at my stage are often baffled by it and need to be told yes, this is the moment or no, that is not the moment. I guess the more we write, the more we understand the process. Understand: do we work this out consciously or does it develop in unconscious fashion? Are some people just born with those skills or we must work hard to develop them? Sunt rerum lachrimae: tears are in all things and I guess hard work is all part of the process. As I was told a long time ago: genius is 99% perspiration and 1% inspiration. You have to put in the hard work for that little light bulb to go ‘pop’!

Yours

Yours

Yours are the hands that raise me up,
that rescue me from dark depression,
that haul me from life’s whirlpool,
that clench around the jaws that bite,
that save me from the claws that snatch.

Yours are the hands that move the pieces
on the chess board of my days and nights,
that break my breakfast eggs and bread,
that bake my birthday cake and count
the candles that you place and light.

You are the icing on that cake, and yours
is the beauty that strips the scales
from my eyes, then blinds me with light.

Candle Light

Candle-light

Five candles burn at my table.
Outside, the night wind howls like a dog
and scratches its pelt on my roof.

The wind has torn branches from the trees
and polished the evening frost until
it sparkles like eighteenth century silver.

A moth circles, sizzles, and flares.
I keep my vigil at night’s altar
and place a wrinkled palm
into the candle’s liquid flame.

Put out a candle, put out a child.
Who would put out a dog on a night like this?
Outside, playing tag between dark trees,
the wind runs wild.

Impressions

Impressions
Early Morning Mass

A single sunbeam:
sharp blade of a heliocentric sword,
it shatters the chapel’s dark.

Fragmented light
speckles white-washed walls.

The priest’s face:
a pallid lily truncated
in the dawn’s pearly light.

A wanderer kneels and prays.
A halo of sunshine
runs a ring around her head.

Her flesh now clutches
a statue’s marble hand.

Her pilgrim palm
presses into granite
forcing warm fingers
into cold stone.

Her veins
weave a warm spell
over frosted rock.

Comment: Revisiting and revising some earlier poems. The early version can be found here. The original poem comes from the collection Obsidian’s Edge, which can be found on Amazon.

Chance Encounter

Chance Encounter
Overheard one night at the bar

“Meeting her, unexpected,
with another man, that night,
and me, with another woman,
all four of us looking
bemused by what the other
had chosen in each
others absence

… time suspended …

and the halted, faltering
politeness of a nod,
a handshake, ships
passing in the night,
signs and signals
no longer recognized.”

Sweet Dreams

Sweet Dreams

Amnesia fades in these amniotic
waters, moving in time to the water pump’s
heart beat. I close my eyes. Nothing is the same.

Do I drift dreamily or dreamily drift?
The tub’s rose-petals bring garden memories:
primrose, bluebells, cowslips, daffodils dancing

sprightly in Blackweir Gardens or Roath Park,
beside the lake or along the gravel paths
where we used to bike, so many years ago.

Photos float before me, pictures of moments
I alone recall. Spring in Paris, the trees
breaking buds along the Champs-Élysées.

Santander in summer, walking the Piquío,
Segunda Playa, beneath the jacarandas.
Winter in Wales, up in Snowdonia where,

on a Relay Run to Tipperary,
I ran down a valley between high hills,
on a freezing night, with only the stars

to keep me company along a ribbon
of road. Autumn in Mactaquac. An orgy
of gaudily painted trees, leaves floating

on this first chill wind, to perch like sparrows,
on my beloved’s hair. The look in her eyes
as I catch a falling leaf and put it in
her pocket to save it for another day.

Flowers

Clare’s Birthday

I won’t allow her to sit here
with her head in her hands
fearing the future
or brooding on the past.

Every day we survive
is a bonus now, each sunrise
a celestial celebration.

We welcome daylight
with open arms and now,
on her birthday, we will
accept all gifts with joy.

Sunshine floods through us.
It fills us with joy and beams
like a beacon. A full tide
of love overflows in our hearts

filling our souls with sunlight
and red and white carnations.

Can you tell me …

Painting by the very talented
line-painter, Geoff Slater

Can you tell me …

… why an incoming wave
is a flash of a handkerchief
an invasion of white water,
a hand at dockside waving good-bye?

… why each wave separates,
thrives for a little while,
then dies on the beach,
wrapped up in its lacy
shroud of foam?

… why errant stars fall,
leaving their constellations
to wander the world alone,
each shooting star, a child?

… why a mother abandons that child,
turns her back on her husband,
and looks silent at the wall?

… why, one night, that husband
walks out of his house,
and never returns?