Copyright (c) 1993 First Things 49 (January 1995):

Recycling Christmas

Most of its dry needles lost with star
and spheres and angels, the tree we children dragged
the short way to the bonfire, tossed
crushed boxes, giftwrap on the pyre,
handfuls of snow so flames would crackle,
dart up the night to warm
our last caroling circle of the season-
a fragrant burning splendor.

In middle age we fed our mulcher
limb by limb our Christmas trees
drawn and quartered even to the trunk.
Wasting nothing, we husbanded our joys,
returned them layer by layer to earth.

And now grown smaller by Nativities,
our family watches the evening
caretaker wheel our smaller tree
away for curbside pick-up-a harvesting
of still green conifers
bound for lakes as habitats for fish,
for sudden darting, gleaming Chrismons
rippling dark branches in January waters.

Noreen Hayes

A Scansion

If I spoke any language other than
yours, I might be able to say it whole,
as a poem: non-Hodgkins lymphoma.
If my ears could hear sounds apart from years
of your wonder, I might delight in the
diagnosis: the alliteration
of poor prognosis patient. These are soft,
innocuous tones-tender syllables
in and of themselves. Were I moved by a
meter other than the beat of your heart,
I'd hear iambic run through the doctor's
order: aggressive chemotherapy.
I have tried to find a rhythm in the
in and out of liquids and needles. I
have tried to find a scheme in ups and downs
of vital signs. Surely there's meaning in
the pattern of sweats and bedpans, lumps and
catscans, coming and going for treatment.
I want to understand the metaphors in
and baldness, in fevers and pain.
If I did not know so many of your
lines by heart, I would not falter over
these. I would stand up and read them aloud.

Mary M. Brown

Australopithecus afarensis

The ph.d.'s with picks and brushes
sketched you up from your bones
your strangely tilted pelvis and knocked knees
suggest you'd become the first biped

So, they've found the one nomadic Mother of us All
and they wanted to call you something suitable

Mother, we all have our reasons
for not calling you Eve

what have I in common with the
lily-like gamine of Eden
bald of thigh, skin as taut
and flushed as a ripe peach
who ambles about the Garden
inventing names for the creeping things
and tasting the sun-sweetened
ovaries of trees?

But you I could hold-
I Name You!
the mere three feet of you

Let's get together and talk
cellulite, crows feet and
breasts that are not her
pert round buds.

I could ask you
what I would love to know
of my Mother-

what gave you the courage
little tree-climbing nut-gathering girl
to lift your knuckles from the ground
after crawling for millions of years-
to walk upright with your breasts out front
and-oh, Lucille!-to cherish one Adam
in all those Neanderthals?

Jenny Sheffer Stevens

Mother and Son, Kazakhstan

Men planted mushrooms in our sky,
she says, with much white boiling
of thunder-and seeds, many seeds
that rained down here and here and here
and, after time, grew up into children.

This one, she says, her sleeves rolled
elbow-high for the work of holding him.

Watch the wrinkled linen of her face
and know the work is hard. A face
and a face, his a gouge of bone
under skin wrenched tight as an outgrown
shirt, the buttons splayed to breaking.

Men came like fire and left like smoke,
she says, shifting his melon-heavy head.

What he lacks fills her arms
to overflowing, how he mouths a gaping
story over and over, the same nuclear
vowel rolling out only to curve back in.

Note her red kerchief, the snowdrift
in her hair. If you can, watch his eyes
like dark searchlights crossing, crossing.
This is a test. This is only a test.

Barbara Seaman

For Pam: A Benediction of the Air

In every presence there is absence.

When we're together, the spaces between
Threaten to enclose our bodies
And isolate our spirits.
The mirror reflects what we are not,
And we wonder if our mate
Suspects a fatal misreading
Of our original text,
Not to mention the dreaded subtext.
Reality, we fear, mocks appearance.
Or is trapped in a hall of mirrors
Where infinite regress prevents
A grateful egress. That is,
We can never know the meaning
Of being two-in-one,
Or if we are one-in-two.
What-I-Am is grieved at What-I'm-Not.
What-We-Should-Be is numbed by What-We-Are.

Yes, I'm playing word games
With the idea of marriage,
Musing over how even we can
Secularize Holy wedlock.
Or to figure it another way,
To wonder why two televisions
In the same house seem natural symbols
Of the family in decline.

Yet you are present to me now.
I sense you keenly, at work,
Bending red in face to reach
A last defiant spot of yellow
On those horrific kitchen cabinets.
Your honey hair flecked with paint;
Your large soft hidden breasts
Pushing down against your shirt.
The hemispheres of those buttocks
Curving into uncompromising hips.
To embrace you would be to take hold
Of my life in all its substance.

Without romance, I say that if
I were to deconstruct myself
And fling the pieces at random,
They would compose themselves
Into your shape.
But I guess that is romantic,
The old mystification-
Cramming two bodies
Into a single space.


Our separation has taught me
That, dwelling in mind,
The corporeality
Of mates has spiritual mass
Which may be formulated:
Memory times desire over distance
Yields a bodying forth.
Thus I project into the
Deadly space between us
A corposant,Pulsating a language
That will cleave to you
In the coolness of sleep
With insubstantiality
So fierce as to leave its dampness
On the morning sheets,
Or so gentle
As to fan your brow
While you paint the kitchen.
A body like a breath,
Whispering the axiom
By which all religions are blessed:

In every absence there is presence.


John Williams