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The Night after Christmas

You better not cry.

“Deplorable” might be how best to put
it, just to underscore the gravity
of chores that border on depravity,
begriming Santa’s uniform with soot.

A chimney’s not an option for the Chosen
if any other path is close at hand,
and empty hearths are not the Promised Land
when toes and fingers are completely frozen.

If nothing else, he’s been a model martyr,
a sacrificial icon with a gift
for giving freely—not a slave to thrift,
an Indian giver, or a man to barter.

St. Nicholas (or simply Santa Claus)
is most admired when he’s successful entering
without the breaking, admiration centering
on voidance of both Man’s and Nature’s Laws.

It’s hard to say how long he has to live—
his tenure spans so many generations—
but everyone from all the Christian Nations
should mind his moral to forgive and give.

Like him, the rest of us are aging fast—
but lack for words or deeds of simple kindness,
received or duly paid. We feign a blindness
to how each deed and word might be the last.

When all is said and done, and we’re too old
to wonder if there really is a Santa,
it’s time to sit the children down and plant a
belief in what will help them stand the cold.

First published in The Road Not Taken

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Liturgy

We have the words, but do not have the thoughts.
A mental lapse that mars our final days.
And when at last we winnow musts from oughts,
It gets no easier to mend our ways.

Our flame has been reduced to dying embers
Embedded in a shroud of flaking ash,
But who within this fading world remembers
When solid gold was what we used for cash?

Though newly minted coin is close at hand,
It can’t be spent till we’re inside a casket;
The time has come for us to understand
That Life itself was our collection basket.

The dearest gifts cannot be bought nor sold,
A lesson to recall when we are old.

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C.B. Anderson was the longtime gardener for the PBS television series, The Victory Garden.  Hundreds of his poems have appeared in scores of print and electronic journals out of North America, Great Britain, Ireland, Austria, Australia and India.  His collection, Mortal Soup and the Blue Yonder was published in 2013 by White Violet Press


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14 Responses

    • C.B. Anderson

      And merry Christmas right back to you, Joe. I’m glad you liked the rhyme. I was probably stuck, and grasping at straws, but one never knows what will be found in a haystack

      Reply
    • C.B. Anderson

      Well, James, that’s my fifth Christmas gift of the day: the knowledge that at least someone thinks that I’m capable of being both clever and wise. We’re in the same boat, and a fine craft she is. I always look forward to (and backward at) your posts.

      Reply
  1. Gail Root

    Okay, having read the back and forth, and going to just poke my head up for a second to say I’m not sophisticated enough for the first poem, but I’m definitely feeling the second one. Thankfully, wisdom can be sought and taught.

    Reply
  2. C.B. Anderson

    “Not sophisticated enough,” Gail? Though the syntax is a bit complicated — one might even say, tortured — the ideas in the first poem are fairly straightforward, and the whole thing was meant to be tongue-in-cheek. Was there anything in particular that put you off?

    Reply
  3. Margaret Coats

    Thinking about Gail Root’s difficulty with “The Night After Christmas,” I’d say the first stanza is an unclear introduction. The rest of the syntax does not seem at all complicated, and indeed not “tortured.” It’s sympathetic–Santa has a gift for giving freely; his moral is to forgive and give. Excellent way to lead into the need for deeds and words of simple kindness.

    To me “Santa,” as the name on a gift tag, has always meant the giver didn’t want to take credit or (necessarily) receive thanks. Of course, I could always guess aloud, and sometimes please the prime suspect. But he didn’t have to admit it. Pleasant way to suggest Santa-like behavior to children and adults.

    I take it “Liturgy” is an offertory, as the poem speaks of money and a collection basket. And the dearest gifts cannot be bought or sold, because they are just what they are–gifts. But am I missing a liturgical lesson in the third quatrain? It doesn’t sound like the homilist’s usual “carpe diem.”

    Reply
  4. C.B. Anderson

    Well, then I don’t understand what made Gail say that she was not sophisticated enough. But bear in mind, Margaret, that as a longtime close reader of English, you are an expert at untangling complex (as in a complex sentence) syntax.

    The “unclear introduction” was just a nod to Santa’s difficult mission. I could have handled it better, I suppose, but the poem has passed muster with two editors, for what that’s worth.

    As for the third stanza of the second poem, the first line refers to the last gift, our heavenly reward, if you will. The second line is obvious, for we can’t collect it until we die. The third line refers to how close some of us are to that eventuality. The fourth line refers to the first gift we were ever given, the gift of life, the life during which we received so many other gifts (thus, our collection basket), both material and (one hopes) spiritual. It might simply be that I chose a poor title for this poem, because liturgy is really only addressed in the first stanza. The poem could have gone in other directions, such as a series of cynical observations about the words we listen to during church services. I’d be very interested to learn both whether or not this response clears anything up for you, and whether or not you have any other thoughts you might care to share with me.

    Reply
    • Margaret Coats

      Yes, the “Liturgy” response clears up your intent. My problem was understanding “newly minted coin close at hand” to be immediately available, as formerly was the “solid gold” used for cash. I see that the casket reference means the new coins are different, but then comes Life the collection basket, in which you say we receive gifts. Should I not, therefore, grab those new coins and put them in my basket? If they are pledges of future gifts, that might work, but another problem is the ordinary use of a collection basket– not to receive, but to give gifts to God (or to the preacher, if his sermon was acceptable). Were those gifts, at one time, the solid gold flame of good deeds now covered with ash?

      I’m surprised that you say your Liturgy ended with the sermon, as a collection often accompanies that, even in a non-sacramental service. This “Liturgy” could be read as beginning with a sermon unsatisfactory to a habitual sinner, who has tried and failed to mend his ways, and despaired of doing so. Then there is the offertory (however interpreted). The final couplet can serve as thanksgiving for the best gifts, most especially the Person of Christ in the unmentioned Sacrament. The recognition that the best gifts are not bought or sold is a satisfying thought applying to many other things that must be known as gifts. I think of wisdom, for example, which some people think they buy with experience, but how many of us go through difficult experiences in which we think we acquire wisdom, yet look around and see others with similar experiences, who remain none the wiser? Wisdom must be a gift, perhaps to men of good will.

      Concerning “The Night After Christmas,” I did not intend to suggest that the first stanza is deficient, but that it is unclear to the unsophisticated reader. In fact, we can call it sophisticated for several reasons. There’s an “alternative” view of Santa, conversational musings rather than a directional discourse, signaled use of a political innuendo “deplorable,” wordplay on “deplorable” and “depravity,” more wordplay on “gravity” which becomes clear only when the reader reaches “Nature’s Laws.” The man in the red suit should have stayed stuck in the chimney top, considering all the forces physics can identify. And all this is just a nod to the kind of work done by Santa, barely introducing the character before moving on to more developed ideas about him (thankfully presented in more flowing stanzas). Of course poetry editors (the most sophisticated readers there are) love this; it brightens their job of reviewing many less spunky poems. The common reader may feel a lack of sophistication as he tries to work out the sentence structure amid so many challenges.

      Reply
      • C.B. Anderson

        Ask, and ye shall receive — in spades. I thank you, Margaret, for this long and thoughtful response. Though it might not have been your intention, you have convinced me that the second poem was not all that well thought out — too many things happening in it that don’t necessarily fit together in a coherent manner — and I don’t know how to answer your remaining questions (explicit or implied) about what I was thinking. It just may be that I wasn’t thinking.

  5. Daniel Magdalen

    Two beautiful poems, each in its own way, in form and meaning. The ethical qualities of the two texts, as they are conveyed in often symbolic imagery, are at once memorable and invite reflection of a sort not so many people usually seem to engage in, at present.

    Reply
  6. Christopher Flint

    I think the third stanza in Liturgy becomes more powerul when one thinks about who is actually doing the “spending”.

    From what was witten, here’s what I heard:

    Though newly minted coin is close at hand,
    the counting will begin beside our casket;
    when those who see us empty understand
    they were for us the passed collection basket.

    The new coin is not only our reward but the realization of our value by those we leave behind and the legacy it entrusts to them.

    So it is with the power of your work. The beauty of your appealing, often rustic sounding verse (cleverly concealing remarkable sophistication) is in what you cause others to contemplate with the same spirit.

    Reply

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