Christmas 1: Greensleeves in the Suburbs

Nothing says summer like this:
Renaissance minstrel piped through tinny speakers,
musicbox-like, rotating through sleepy street,
a call for ice-cream from a roaming van,
suburban icon, half-sinister, half-sweet.

To us in the south it seems fitting that the tune
should be used too for carols:
“What Child is This?” and another I don’t know,
“Now that the old year is fled”.
Who is the lady Greensleeves? Apocryphal stories clash with tradition;
promiscuity, Henry VIII wooing his distant Anne,
sleeves to reflect the moral state…

Into such as this, the child steps;
if today, would Mr Whippy have heralded Him,
as he lay down in our real estate?
Would summer celebrators have briefly paused
over rainbow-with-chocolate-sprinkles
to laud the newborn king?

Now that our year is nearly fled,
we lie to rest but wake instead
to a summer, blazing bright away
and nothing more to fill our stockings.
As the green grass casts us away,
let’s pray
that the child-king might be found amongst us.

Advent 1: Expectation

Not expectant last year, we met
the season with a kind of still gratitude,
quiet in the truth that what had been
had been, and was not now,
grateful for months of frozen meals
and flowers (grief and surgery have these in common),
and hopeful that the next year must
be better at least than the one soon past.

How small our hopes. This year we find
the season catch us unawares while we
play catch-up on laundry and give our days
to calming two ever-opening eyes
and settle a mind eager to consume the world.

How quickly all this opens. Even
our almond tree from last year’s spring
already bears a handful of fruit
and life will run ahead of us now,
able to walk while we dazed ones still blink.
Nothing stays still very long…

Yet there’s a baby bursting in the midst of things,
catching our sleepless summer unawares.
Even now, when an eye-blink has transfigured our house,
even now our expectation’s small.

If I, He says, can do such a miracle as this
and made it easy work,
how much more after the labor of the world?

No Ghosts This Year #6

The day after, he always felt like a wounded soldier. And, while there was a certain manly glory in the feeling, it was hard for others to see or understand it; and what good, really, was there in having survived a battle that no-one else knew you had fought?

As a younger child, he had tried at times to get his parents or Sarah to understand. Sometimes they seemed to, yet only sometimes. It was easiest for them to understand when there was something tangible to explain the battle: a sickness, f0r instance; something that could be observed and diagnosed. Fear of sickness did not seem to amount to the same thing. Being convinced he had asbestosis because Pa had brought out a piece of asbestos at the dinner table one night and had shown it to them: that had not been legitimate. The night that the left half of his face felt paralysed, that night they had understood, for a time; until it had been revealed that there was nothing really wrong with him, only fear.

So, on days like today, he learnt to simply endure it. School would go on, the battle would go on. Perhaps, he reflected, he shouldn’t have read that book before bed. Perhaps he should have drunk his before-bed glass of milk. There were no explanations, only guilt. So he took it on his own shoulders, and went to school.

Sarah, although offering to drive him from school, had no intention of driving him there. “I’m on holidays,” she’d said, when he’d gone to her room to say goodnight. “I’m not getting up that early.” And so it was with some level of fear that he set off walking to school, passing Burden Street as he did, not sure if he was afraid of the stranger he had met or of the strangeness of his thoughts on going to bed. He could reflect now, in the relatively calm light of day, that there had been no reason to think that he had feared – what was it? What even had he feared? The content of the book? The face of the stranger? His own heart? Having no idea what, he could only try to shrug off the odd sensation that clung still about him.

It was another sunny day, likely to make him clammy and grumpy by the end. He hated the sensation of summer about his face and limbs. Only when he could be still and at rest in the sun did he not mind. When he had a fan and a book, or a beach to dip into, then the sun did not trouble him. But when his uniform clung about him and the sun beat down with the pulsating urgency of timetables and the scrutiny of familiar schoolyard faces: then sun was only torture.

So he did his best to walk in the shade, and shade there was if he crossed the road. The shade took him also away from the milk bar where some of his classmates met in the mornings to walk to school together. Crossing over, he averted his eyes from the milk bar and focused on the shade.

“Hey,” called a voice from the other side of the road.

Ritual

Why do I walk on tiptoes when I first step into icy blue?
                                 As if my waist
must stay above the lapping line,
                                                  as though
caution will keep me safe in this task
which infants undertake with glee?
The slow preparation,
the gasps as underneath we plunge:
all this is ritual, and we are drawn to it
as ducks to streams –
salt or chlorine always say
Summer, whatever the temperature of air,
however pervasive the shade.
And here bamboo lines the pool, and palm
fronds droop like willows thirsty for drink:
the scene is stamped, Paradise
in shades we are trained to recognise.
Not all is familiar or belongs:
pindan dust falls to blue floor
and outside smudges the bitumen.
My coast is not this coast;
the sun sets for me the other way.
Though strange the air and stranger the days,
all water says, I am home.

Christmas Monday

Well: perhaps, you went to church the day before,
Heard Jesus hailed as promise kept, as wise
Old Simeon and Anna wept and saw
The saving one, a babe before their eyes.
Perhaps you picked some turkey from your teeth
And thought of all the washing to be done,
The relatives all gone, so now relief
From cooking up a storm for everyone.
Perhaps the Christmas tree is drooping now;
Perhaps the pool gives comfort in this heat.
Perhaps there’s too much light going around
And, victory done, you fancy quiet defeat.
Keep watch: He grew and walked and made His way
For summer sinners who always doze astray.