Christmas Eve

I wrote this last year, and I still like it. So I’m reposting it. Happy Christmas Eve! The waiting is almost over!

 

Christmas Eve

I wonder if,
today,
(but not now – then)
the earth held its breath,
like an audience in a theater
as the curtain begins to rise.
Watching.
Waiting.
Expecting.

I wonder if the wind gusted
with unusual delight,
calling out to the rivers and the seas.
I wonder if the people being counted
huddled closer, wrapping themselves
tightly in their cloaks,
making small talk about strange weather
while they waited.

I wonder if the shepherds
remarked to each other
how the sheep
and the goats
were restless today.
And how the dogs were acting
just as they did
in the deep quiet before a storm.

Or if not the earth,
then at least the angels
(and perhaps the moon and stars).
I wonder if they jostled for position
to see the girl in the crowd
who carried eternity inside her,
and her husband,
his face creased by worry
place a hand on her belly
feeling the muscles tighten beneath his palm.

I wonder if they all spoke the word with her:
Soon

Christmas cookies

I made cookies tonight to take over to a friend’s house for Christmas Eve. As I did I thought about three women, in particular, who taught me to bake. My grandmother was the first baker I knew. She taught me how to use a mixer. Mrs. Smith ruled over our middle school home-ec classes with an iron fist. She also taught me how to use a sewing machine and press a shirt. And Marie was my babysitter from the time I was 11 months old. She made huge numbers of cookies, which she packed onto styrofoam trays her husband got from the butcher. Getting that tray was one of the highlights of Christmas.

So…that’s what I wrote about. In honor of them.

 

Legacy

I creamed together butter and sugar
until it was as yellowy soft
as the new chicks at the science museum
and remembered how my grandmother
held her hand over both of mine
moving the old green mixer around the bowl
“Make sure you get it all,” she’d say
“And keep your fingers back.”

I leveled out flour in a red cup measure
and heard Mrs. Smith say:
“Dry measures are for dry ingredients
and wet measures for wet.”
She’d fail you if you got that wrong,
and the next day you would be on dish duty.
No measuring for you.
Cookies are very picky creatures.

I rolled dough into balls and dropped them
on the sheet counting – five rows of four.
Like Marie did winter after winter,
so that on Christmas Eve there were
cookies on so many Styrofoam trays.
Enough for everyone, but we still fought
over the peanut butter ones with the kisses.
And every year she said, “This is the last time.”

I slid a spatula under perfectly round cookies
moving them from baking sheet to cooling rack
and remembered the day my mom lost her job
and when she woke up in the morning
she found dozens of her favorite cookies
– these same ones –
and her daughter, surrounded, saying,
“I didn’t know what else to do.”

Aging grief

Dear December 16th,

You snuck up on me this year. Usually I watch the calendar and see the days approaching you tick by, counting all the time since After began. But this time I didn’t. Maybe it was because I was distracted, busy traveling, applying to grad school, and finishing up my class. But maybe it’s because After has become the new normal.

I haven’t forgotten though. I haven’t forgotten how we sat on the daybed and watched, counting breaths until there were no more to count. How the man from the funeral home was a living stereotype, with cold hands and a black suit at five in the morning. I haven’t forgotten how they asked if I wanted to see her one more time, hidden by that bright quilt, and I said, “No, thank you.” But what I really meant was, “No, thank you, because if I see her one more time, it will be the last time and I will know it, and I will never be able to put myself back together again.”

You snuck up on me this year, December 16th, but I haven’t forgotten. Because as soon as I saw the date this morning I was back in a little room in Tennessee, looking at a pink nightshirt neatly folded on the seat of a vacant brown recliner.

And I remembered. Six years.

Six years After

When After comes
it elbows its way in
uninvited
pulls up a chair
and puts its feet up
as if to say
“Get comfortable.
I’m not going anywhere”

At first
everyone notices
and nods
awkwardly
trying not to make
eye contact
because nobody
likes After.

But something happens
along the way
and After becomes
familiar.
Expected.
Like the weird uncle
everyone would miss
if he wasn’t there.

Until a word
or a laugh
or the Christmas lights in
a fancy hotel
or a calendar date
remind you again
that once –
there was Before.