December 2008


i can’t promise you, mom

that i won’t

spill the beans

or is it black-eyed peas–they’re supposed

to be lucky anyways, foreseeing

a fortunate year–i can’t predict

whether my tongue will loosen on watery beers

roiling a stomach stuffed

with peanuts

and let slip something you’d prefer to keep

secret

i won’t tell them

what they don’t already suspect, twenty

odd years with no boyfriend

in sight on this flat horizon

they’ve seen the oak trees, how they grow

crooked without another

trunk to lean on–this was seen

in the flutter of birds wings, cards or whatever

you say you believe in now

they don’t say

what they believe

grace at dinner is half-forgotten and

truce a word for Scrabble boards

i can’t read the future, mom, though you taught me well

what the words on the next page tell

i will try not to tell them

lies

you taught me not to tell lies, but how

can i face them now

words caught in my teeth like the shells

from peanuts and i want

them to be better, i want them to deserve you

your love

because you are better, stronger than

they have ever appreciated

your own blood

and mine

i can’t promise you that i won’t speak

you taught me that too

my voice deserves its place in the wind and i’m

sorry for interrupting you

but there are some things I won’t say

and others i won’t hold back

when provoked, stomach tumbling

to my bare toes

i promise you

mom, I will respect you

as long as you return the favor

instead of cutting my breath

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Though I’m far from religious, I’ve always liked the Christmas season, because it’s the time of year when people are often their most generous.  Every December I love picking out toys or books for those Toys-for-Tots programs and buying a couple extra cans or boxes at the grocery store to later place in food drive bins.  I know these tiny acts aren’t going to change much, though, and I know I should be charitable all year round.  That is what’s bad about Christmas season–it’s seasonal.  Temporary.  For less than four weeks, we smile at strange men in red suits and beards, give change to people on the street (only if they’re ringing bells, though–somehow that legitimizes panhandling), and sing along to what are objectively very silly songs.  (I’ve witnessed a businessman in a suit hum along to ‘Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer’ with no sign of embarrassment.)  Why can’t that last longer?

Why can’t I give books to kids whose parents can’t afford them in April or July? Why do we save our generosity for this brief dark stretch of winter? It’s still going to be cold in January or February–colder, even.  People will still be looking for a warm place to stay the night, especially after so many have faced foreclosures and evictions this year.  There aren’t many stables around these days, and no Magi showing up with frankincense and myrrh, whatever the hell those are.  Who’s going to help them when Christmas has come and gone?