Last Christmas

I’d rushed there through the afternoon
In someone else’s borrowed car
Where you, distressed I’d come too soon,
Were giving samples in a jar.

The last I ever spoke with you
Was in that long, cold, darkened ward.
Snow washed outside like waves, and you
Were slipping slowly overboard.

The doctors, standing in a ring
Around your little chrome wheelchair,
Diminished you, and everything
Was barely covered; open where

You sat, subdued, bone-naked, and
I thought of all your foppish ways—
Remembered you, so dark and tanned,
Painting the house; it took three days.

I’d brought the broken paper tree,
The cracked and faded ornaments
You gave so long ago to me,
Before the insults, and the rents.

I told you how you’d given them,
In case you had forgotten now.
You brightened for a moment when
I spoke. Your head began to bow.

Grape juice filled glasses meant for wine,
With all around half-dead or bored.
No cheery red, nor any pine,
No festive songs about our Lord.

And then they brought some soup for you.
You shrank, and would not eat unless
I tasted first. You feared a coup,
That even now you’d go. Please bless

My father in this awful place
Who once loved Christmas with his kin.
Let this brief visit bring some grace
To what is now, and what has been.



After Christmas

Another year has turned, we made it through
Disaster, interruption and some pain,
To where the tree goes up, its branches new
Enough to hold old ornaments again.

First lights, those tiny sparks in rainbow light.
Then ropes of tinsel. One tree can hold fast
Within its limbs small teddy bears, whose height
Is hidden in corners. Plaster angels cast

In one cherubic face. Red birds that flew
To lower branches, picked at golden grain
That spangled oriental rugs like dew,
This mystic food, which real birds would disdain.

That you will see again the next July,
And smile and sweep it up, then wonder why.



A former Wilbur Fellow and six-time Pushcart nominee, Sally Cook is a regular contributor to National Review, and has appeared in venues as varied as Chronicles, Lighten Up On Line, and TRINACRIA. Also a painter, her present works in the style known as Magic Realism are represented in national collections such as the N.S.D.A.R. Museum in Washington, D.C. and The Burchfield-Penney, Buffalo, NY.

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21 Responses

  1. C.B. Anderson

    The first was so mysterious, Sally, that I nearly lost my way, but then I realized that every Christmas is the Last Christmas.

    In the second, the mood is reborn, though as an aftermath. You’ve become downright vatic in your present incarnation. God keep you.

  2. Paul Freeman

    Thanks for sharing Last Christmas, Sally. It says much about how circumstances and current realities can erode much of the nostalgia of Christmas.

    And what an original idea for After Christmas, the decorating of the tree, especially after the procrastination and arguing over who would get the tree out and put the deccos on in my household. Your poem positively inspires people to decorate their tree.

    Thanks for the reads, Sally.

    • Sally Cook

      Dear Paul ==
      It is always fascinating to see comments each reader brings to the table. Thanks for yours. Please have a creative and prolific New Year !

  3. Peter Hartley

    Sally – These two poems, and the first in particular, are among the most moving I have read. “Last Christmas” is full of pathos and pity for the dying. It reminds us how the elderly in hospital or hospice who know (something must surely tell them though it is always unspoken) that they will never emerge from that building alive, also know that nothing for their loved ones will ever be quite the same again. And hospital, as you remind us, is no place for modesty. That is the first thing to go out of the window for somebody sitting there cowed, in a flimsy hospital robe, providing a sample. There is no doubt about it, such experiences ARE “diminishing” as you observe. The height difference alone when the patient is sitting in “his little chrome wheelchair” or lying in a hospital bed dictates it, and no end of faux geniality from a doctor or nurse is going to change that or mitigate the indignity.

    • Sally Cook

      Peter, everything you say is true beyond measure. Some unpleasant things must be written about, they scream to be written about, lest we dwell on them. Thank you for your empathetic response.
      I do hope that the coming year will be a good one for you.

  4. Cynthia Erlandson

    I agree with Peter; “Last Christmas” is deeply moving., especially to those (maybe all of us?) who’ve had to watch their loved ones suffer these kinds of indignities. “Snow washed outside like waves, and you / Were slipping slowly overboard.” is probably my favorite line — such a great metaphor! But “Grape juice filled glasses meant for wine” also says so much in a few words. Thank you, Sally!

    • Sally Cook

      Dear Cynthia-
      Both you and Peter have hit it on the head.
      Now, at the distance of some years, I do think such a light spirit – someone who could chuckle for years over a newspaper ad which read “for sale, a piano by a lady with mahogany legs”, and would wait every spring for someone to ask what he planned for his garden plot this year. “Why, lettuce, turnip and pea, he would joyously shout!!
      Seems as if a soul that irrepressible ought to be allowed a dinner jacket with a carnation in the buttonhole, rather than a faded hospital gown.

  5. Susan Jarvis Bryant

    Dearest Dame Sally, what a post-Christmas treat! I am in awe of both poems, but especially ‘Last Christmas’. For me, it speaks of my late grandfather and brings alive that heart-crushing moment when the magic of yuletide (the magic and wonder he brought me when I was a girl) goes missing, and life’s harsh and tearjerking reality takes its place. You have an enviable knack of painting pictures of people, and all the emotions that swirl around the rigors of life, with a beauty and an honesty that is palpable. Your poetry is a pleasure to read… even when I have tears in my eyes. Thank you very much indeed.

    • Susan Jarvis Bryant

      … I also love the picture Evan has chosen. Thank you, Evan!

    • Sally Cook

      Susan as I said earlier, there are some of the world’s unpleasantries which must be addressed in order to let the poison out. Something like lancing a boil.
      Well, why am I telling you this? You do it almost every day in your own clear and prolific way. What a pleasure to be able to exchange thoughts on such a fine website with other like-minded poets such as you, my dear. —

  6. Jeff Eardley

    Sally, these are just so appropriate at this most reflective time of year for those of us who have experienced the loss of friends and family in this season of celebration. Beautiful to read, like all your work. Thank you.

    • Sally Cook

      Jeff, as I said earlier, while I don’t often write in such a dolorous vein, it surely is something which acts as a healing process. Thank you for your sensitive comments.

  7. Joseph S. Salemi

    Two top-notch pieces of pure poetry. In “Last Christmas,” Sally Cook takes her complex and sometimes difficult relationship with her father Donald and transforms it, via the alchemy of language, into a moment wherein all of us can touch Incorruption. Sally, may God bless you and your father.

    • Sally Cook

      Joe, that is what I pray for. God bless you in the coming year and beyond.

  8. Margaret Coats

    Christmas nostalgia doesn’t erode as years pass, but moves each of us into another sphere, as we go through successive years collecting our individual Christmas ghosts. “Last Christmas,” while focusing on a final bodily meeting, says very clearly that a person is far more than a body. That’s why the body deserves dignity, and we are distressed when that dignity is lacking . Sally, you’ve made me think of an admirable old friend who gave up much in her life to care for her parents-in-law in her own home, rather than placing them elsewhere. And when you speak of “old ornaments” in “After Christmas,” I look at my tree and think of departed friends who made them or gave them, or of the places and circumstances where I acquired them. Christmas is truly a craftsman’s workshop for every soul when we pay attention to it; thank you for carefully crafting these special ornaments!

    • Sally Cook

      Yes, Margaret, I concur. When I write somehing like this, I try not to be “sentimental:” in the trivial sense of the word, yet when I grabbed my old teddy bear by his left ear (in preparation for his annual Christmas trek down stairs and I felt it rip, it was as if my own ear ripped ! That bear and I have what might be called a sentimental connection. Silly? would it be less silly to have tossed the old fellow on some bonfire years ago:
      Not me. I have saved him for so long, he will soon be worth a nice sum.

  9. James Sale

    Sally, your poem Last Christmas is outstanding – the pain and the pathos is awesomely rendered. Superb writing – this is the kind of poetry that we all need to read. Congratulations.

    • Sally Cook

      Oh, James — I hardly know what to say !
      You are too kind — Some may think me foolish; on the other hand, some, overly bound up in following church rules may have no compunction about calling me too much of a satirist. I say, are they living in this world? Thank you, thank you.

  10. Tamara Beryl Latham

    Sally, your poem “Last Christmas” was heart-wrenching and brought tears to my eyes while thinking about my own deceased father. You’ve captured, with your poetic words, a subject that all of us can (so unfortunately) relate to. The lines that weigh most heavy on my heart are those where your Dad, residing in a nursing home, wanted you to taste the soup first, as he feared a coup. We hate to think of our loved ones (who now have limited mental capabilities) in such a place when they approach the end of life.

    And the second poem gives us new hope in old tree ornaments.

    Thanks for posting such meaningful poems this time of year. 🙂

    • Sally Cook

      Dear Tamara,
      Thanks for adding your voice to the many who reacted positively to this poem. A few years before, I might not have written it, perhaps because it might have been written too soon. Hope to hear from you again.


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