Long the shadow that it casts,
Christmas present, o’er our pasts.
In its darkness made to bask,
Mumbling carols through a mask.

Oh, the distance we observe.
No resistance, gone our nerve.
Cowering in abject fear,
We no longer gather near.

Through the mail, gifts we exchange.
Can it get more cold and strange?
Safety now at any cost,
Dignity forever lost.

As our souls within us freeze,
Heal us, Baby Jesus, please.



Joe Tessitore is a retired New York City resident and poet.

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39 Responses

  1. Julian D. Woodruff

    Right, Mr. Tessitore
    It is, as you say, a freeze. And as a recent (dubious) submission of mine suggests, it may last a lot longer than most are willing to admit.
    Nice, succinct poem.

    • Joe Tessitore

      If power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely, then it will last a lot longer than most are willing to admit. The martinets of the world have tasted absolute power – the power of life and death – and they are wielding it to what they believe is their advantage.
      Does anyone believe that they will simply relinquish it?

      “Willing to admit” is key in all of this. I believe that we all know, on some level, that something is dreadfully wrong, but that we simply can’t or won’t face it.

      I’m with you, Mr. Woodruff,
      or maybe even a step beyond you – I don’t believe it’s ever going away.

  2. Cynthia Erlandson

    I love it, Joe, especially “Safety now at any cost, / Dignity forever lost.” My only suggestion would be to change line 3 so that it flows more like a full sentence — perhaps something like, “In its darkness we must bask”. But the meaning is powerful, and it is accented by the pert, trochaic tetrameter you’ve chosen.

    • Joe Tessitore

      Thank you, Cynthia. It was one of those “three o’clock in the morning” poems, so any suggestions by much clearer heads are more than welcome!

  3. C.B. Anderson

    I loved it, Joe, not just for the message, but also for a technically perfect sonnet in catalectic trochaic tetrameter. The rhyme scheme was unusual, but I liked that too. Such is the freedom we have in this word sport we call poetry. No mayor or state governor may decree otherwise. By the way, my best present this year was a bottle of 12-year-old Aultmore single malt Scotch whisky, but the best gift of all was receiving it while in the company of my immediate family, including my son-in-law, a brother-in-law and my two granddaughters, with not a face mask to be seen.

    • Joe Tessitore

      Your maskless family is indeed the best gift of all, but a bottle of twelve-year-old single malt is a seriously good runner-up!
      We weren’t invited to any family events this year – let me not speculate on why we weren’t. We got videos of a few of them. All were masked and distanced, so we’d have made our excuses if we had been invited.

      Our best gift was our little house in the Catskills, where people and masks are few and far between.

    • Julian D. Woodruff

      You may well be right, Mr. Tessitore. I’m not quite so pessimistic, considering that things have improved in such places as Poland and Hungary. But the malaise must be recognized by many more than do before freedom can return. Is the current sedation permanent?

      • Joe Tessitore

        It’s the one thing here in the States that doesn’t subscribe to an ideological position – people on both sides of the ideological divide are quite literally scared to death.

        It hasn’t gotten much air play, but they’ve begun ramming their cars into each other and shooting each other over the wearing and not wearing of masks.

  4. Sally Cook

    Joe, a graceful, though depressing poem. But how well you have taken our current misery and turned it into poetry !

    • Joe Tessitore

      Thank you, Sally.
      I think it’s because we go back and forth between the city and the Catskills, and the difference is palpable.
      I’m not sure you could help but write about it.

  5. Jeff Eardley

    Joe, you have summed up the present mood over here in England with this. As we have our first heavy snow for years, we are on the edge of another lockdown with all it’s ongoing misery. Best wishes to you and yours for a better 2021.

    • Joe Tessitore

      We have friends in England – my wife’s Beatle pen pal from all those years ago, believe it or not – and they keep us apprised.
      We hear that you have a new strain of the virus and people are rushing the airports in an attempt to escape.

      If they’re thinking of coming here, tell them to stay home.
      Nothing could be worse than this and things are promising to get even better, or should I say “worse”?

  6. Christopher Flint

    Joe —

    The meter is so well matched to the point. It makes the brevity extremely powerful.

    At 7 – 10. I think it could be even stronger and less reader dependent if it went something like this:

    Now we cower in our fear
    And no longer gather near.

    Gifts by mail as our exchange —
    What could seem more cold and strange?

    Just a thought for whatever it’s worth. Your gift for compacting expression is a rare treasure.

    • Joe Tessitore

      Thank you, Christopher.
      Again, it was a “three o’clock in the morning” poem, and all clear-headed suggestions are more than welcome.

      Dr. Salemi once wrote about “a finely chiseled poem” and it struck me like a lightening bolt.
      It’s guided me ever since.


    A marvelously wry tone which defies the depressing subject matter. Well done!

    • Joe Tessitore

      Thank you, Brian!
      I sent your “The Tarantella” to one of the dancers in the New York City Ballet”.

      It’s in their repertoire, and you can check it out on You Tube for a rip-snorting version!

  8. Russel Winick


    I, too, enjoyed your well-written and succinct poem. I have been particularly ashamed of the role of the courts in allowing this power feast by various governors, etc. I expected and saw little from politicians, who blithely declared most peoples’ livelihoods “not essential.” But the law that I learned prohibited fundamental rights from being denied in the absence of a compelling governmental interest, with the restriction tailored as narrowly as possible to achieve the objective. The burden of proving such is the case is on the government. Instead, we’ve mostly witnessed courts just quickly rubber stamping the nefarious edicts. This is in many ways a tragic time.

    Russel Winick

    • Joe Tessitore

      Indeed, and the question that the rubber-stamping begs is “What kind of country are we?”
      The answer lies in Ben Franklin’s quote about trading liberties for safety.

  9. Susan Jarvis Bryant

    Joe, this heart-touching poem taps into the bleakness of this year’s Christmas, and, like Cynthia, I relate to the lines; “Safety now at any cost,/Dignity forever lost.” – they have touched me the most. Those lines are exactly why I have not stopped speaking out, often to the detriment of my reputation, but, as I’ve said before – freedom means more to me than my reputation. Joe, thank you for validating the thoughts of all those who feel they’re alone in their beliefs and for focusing on the true solution to all of these wicked, earthly problems. Well done!

  10. Paul A. Freeman


    Gather near and get a share
    of Covid droplets in the air.
    In infectious virus bask,
    or cut the chances with a mask.

    • C.B. Anderson

      You sound like a frightened advocate for the nanny-state, Unfreeman, but your verse is decent.

      • Paul A. Freeman

        We buried my step-father two days ago, CB. He died shortly after contracting Covid during a hospital visit. He passed the virus to my mother, but luckily she did not become symptomatic.

        As for the ‘Unfreeman’ jibe, it’s depressing that name-calling has become a normalised debating tactic.

    • Mike Bryant

      Mr. Freeman,

      Masks cut chances
      Just as well
      As chain-link fences
      Cut the swell
      Of “skeeters” biting up a storm
      I’ll never buy your mad new norm.

      By the way… I ain’t subscribin’ to 12G either…. 🙂

      • Paul A. Freeman

        I think you get a different perspective on the pandemic depending on where you are and what’s going on around you. To me it makes sense that a mask is more effective at subduing saliva droplets than a chain-link fence.

        I’ve still got my 2G, by the way, though I had to upgrade when I started working from home – but only to receive MS Teams.

      • Mike Bryant

        Every… EVERY study shows that those who have NO symptoms cannot spread any virus whatsoever, so… why in the name of SCIENCE should any THINKING individual who has no symptoms at all wear a mask, unless you are simply proclaiming your serfdom… why?

      • Cynthia Erlandson

        Exactly, Mike. And how have we lost the common sense to know that inhibiting breathing is a very unhealthy practice?

  11. Joe Tessitore

    Since when do leftists debate?
    Since when have leftists abandoned the name-calling, debate-cancelling tactic of “racist, sexist, homophobe”?
    Since when have the beginning of your fears spelled the end of others’ liberties?

    • Paul A. Freeman

      Joe, you didn’t have to cancel me by claiming I’m a ‘leftist’ (I refer to use of the possessive adjective ‘your’ in the above post), when all I did was express a view on a medical issue at variance to your own.

      On another note, I take comfort in being in the presence of ‘formal’ poets, though I must warn you that on occasion I’ve been known to stray into free verse.

      • Mike Bryant

        Paul, you have not been cancelled. However, this is Joe’s room in the house of SCP, and if you do not afford Joe or the SCP the proper respect your comment will be removed.

      • Joe Tessitore

        If it “reasons” like a leftist and writes like a leftist and smells like a leftist and is more than willing to cancel everyone else’s freedoms to achieve its own selfish, fear-driven ends ..,
        you’ll forgive me for having made an assumption.

        Let’s not forget that your step-father was one in a nation of three hundred and thirty million.

      • Paul A. Freeman

        Your house, Joe.

        However, your observation of how I write (‘normalised’, for instance), would place my step-father in a nation of around seventy million.

  12. Joe Tessitore

    And you’ll forgive me once more, but I can’t help but wonder if dropping the step-father bomb wasn’t an attempt to explode the debate, as opposed to encouraging it?

    • Paul A. Freeman

      No problem, Joe.

      The Webcast funeral was a bit surreal (for me, at least – my Mum and brother were able to attend).

      • Joe Tessitore

        “Mum” suggests that I have you in the wrong country – yet another erroneous assumption on my part, and I’m not at all sure what your “normalized” remark means.

        I do believe that a debate about masks is well worth having.
        Tightening up on the ground rules would help to make it an interesting one.

  13. Joe Tessitore


    Forgive me for having been harsh with you earlier.
    I am finding it difficult to come to terms with the fact that both the rule of law and the voice of the people have been rendered meaningless here in the States.
    This is still no reason to jump on you about it, and I’m sorry that I did.


    • Paul A. Freeman

      I reckon everyone’s testy these days for one reason or another, so sorry about that, too. I’ve been virtually locked down since April working at home, my kids at school at the adjacent table, my wife watching TV in the corner of the room and my older daughter doing courses on the couch preparatory to going to university.

      The first two months of lockdown we had a curfew. At weekends I’d go for a ten mile walk once curfew lifted and would see less than half a dozen people while I was out. I still do the 10-mile walks and write much of my poetry while walking.

      Ah, yes – ‘normalised’ with an ‘s’. I’ve tried using a ‘z’, it’s much more practical, but old habits of British spelling die hard.


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