Poetry Dispatch No. 41 | December 21, 2005
DECEMBER Has Me Coming and Going by Donna Balfe
December has me coming and going:
The perpetual Pollyanna of pessimism takes a break, and I come alive
with the advent of Advent. I’ve spent the Christmases of our familyhood
creating traditions I’m still trying to outdo. David is an enthusiastic
Santa—hider of presents, tracker of inventory, official keeper of the
current year’s master list. We’ve saved these lists over the years.
Combined, they represent a significant portion of GNP and the national
debt. We never learned to be frugal. Seduced by galloping inflation
in the 1970s, we came to believe we were rich. We haven’t banked
on the possibility of a rainy day. If it comes, we will drown
in a sea of luxurious memories.
To drown in a sea of luxurious memories:
There are worse things. It’s funny to me that the boys love Christmas
most. Our eldest child is slightly depressed by the holiday; the middle
daughter disenchanted; and the youngest, detached, as if too much
caring would compromise her independence. But our sons are
sponges of the spirit. Snow and secrets, Christmas carols and cookies,
color their world good. Our first son was born a month early on
Christmas Eve, leaving David to prepare the nursery and fly solo as
Santa for two little girls. It was a weird and happy holiday;
exciting and a little melancholy.
I didn’t realize we were so young.
We were very young:
Now we strain to remember individual holidays. Our good fortune is in
what we have escaped, thus far. Friends have taken tragedy and turned
it into strength. We remain untested. People tend to think we are a
happy family—most of the time, we do too. We’ve come to believe in
ourselves. Not much mars our holiday madness. Grievances are set
aside in honor of wholeness and peace. We shop, wrap, bake—bitch a little about the hype and hope for snow. We are only sporadically spiritual.
The religious context of Christmas is tangential to tradition
for most of us, and I am embarrassed to confess my pride
when our family fills an entire pew on Christmas Eve.
The zenith of anticipation. A pity it passes so quickly. For a few hours,
there is a pleasant pause of readiness with presents wrapped, house
in order, the feast set to go. Now, with Christmas past, the last
week of the year is oddly quiet as the afterglow dims. A sluggish
time of lying around cocooned in new flannel; playing games,
snacking on leftovers, reading, resting up. Finally
growing impatient with the year; wishing it over,
weary of the short days and clutter of its climax,
ready for its exit. It’s time to reset the margins,
invent new headings, fill in the outline
of my new life. December keeps
me coming and going.
from THE LAST HOUSEWIFE IN AMERICA, Cross+Roads Press.