Is it too soon to take down the Christmas tree?

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Until my sister and I were out of high school and my parents invested in a silvery artificial Christmas tree,  my mother put up what we called the “real” Christmas tree as close to Christmas Eve as possible. To hold us off, from early December till a few days before Christmas,  she gave us little projects: an Advent calendar coated with silver glitter, with tiny windows, behind which lay old-fashioned toys—tops, trains, kewpie dolls, bears wearing red ribbon bows, jacks, toy workbenches, roller skates.  Or a twelve-inch 1940’s –era plastic Christmas tree that came with tiny glass Christmas ornaments which we painstakingly hung on the tree.

            Or the humblest pre-Christmas ritual of all—the brown paper tree, fashioned from several large Food Fair grocery bags that she cut apart and glued, drawing on it  a seven-foot tall tree shape. With safety scissors, my sister and I carefully cut along the outline of the tree our mother had outlined in dark green crayon. On the scraps of brown paper, we drew and colored in ornaments: round globes in red and  green using the fat primary grade crayons.  When we were a little older, we graduated to the standard 24- crayon Crayola box, and feeling adventurous, we colored paper ornaments in other Crayola shades—burnt Sienna, Azure blue, red-orange, to design fancier balls. For gold, we deployed yellow. For silver, we used gray. After dinner on weeknights, or in the afternoon on Advent Saturdays, we lay on our stomachs in the small kitchen, bearing down hard on our thick Crayolas.

            “Sit up when you use the scissors,” our mother said. “No cutting while you’re lying down.” As soon as she left the room, we were back on our bellies, carefully cutting out the paper ornaments. I was in charge of drawing the star, and we both filled it in with hard strokes, so no brown Food Fair bag paper would show through. We made a stack of the cut-out shapes. Mom taped the giant paper tree to the wall I the kitchen, and each day, she helped us glue a few or the paper ornaments onto the tree. By the time we got to the bottom of the ornament pile, there was a real Christmas tree in the corner of our small dining room, perfuming the small apartment with its fresh balsam scent.

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The Christmas cards began to arrive in early December, from aunts and uncles, from Mom’s friends from her teaching days before I was born, from neighbors, from Mom and Dad’s friends from Sparrows Point.  Mom opened and read each one aloud to us. We rubbed our fingers over the ones with flocked designs, or real cotton for Santa’s beard. On a metal apparatus in the shape of a pine tree, Mom displayed the cards, and when the clips of the metal tree were all used up, she taped holiday cards to the woodwork arch leading from the dining room into the kitchen. Out came the Christmas stockings, which hung on a red ribbon attached to the wall with thumbtacks, because we had no fireplace. Mom said not to worry, Santa would enter and exit from the stairs that led from our grandma’s home downstairs up to our place. The real tree stayed bare in its stand, a red vessel that held the trunk tight by long screws boring into the wood. The lights and the real glass ornaments never appeared, back then, until after my sister and I were fast asleep.

            A few days after Christmas, my mother began to notice the dropped needles that appeared everywhere in the apartment.  She let us keep our favorite gifts, the dolls and toys, under the tree until New Year’s Day. But the pajamas, the scarf and glove sets from our aunts, the bath towels with the circus motif, personalized with our names, and the games had to be stowed in our bureaus or the big closet.  Soon, the real tree would be gone, lying on the curb for the garbage men to claim. The paper tree my sister and I worked so hard on was rolled up and discarded. All the sugar cookies and the chocolate chips had been eaten up, and what remained were a few hard, spicy gingersnaps that only my parents liked. I wondered aloud her what she would do with the Christmas cards, and she said I could collect them, use them for whatever projects I could think up. She handed me a small box, I watched her pull the cards from the woodwork, one by one. This time, she didn’t even look inside at the signatures.

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              She removed the fragile ornaments from the tree and lined them up on the dining room table. As she inspected each ornament, and placed it into its niche in the storage box, the television droned on in the adjacent living room. “Nineteen fifty-two is just around the corner,” the tv announcer said, as he began touting a new car. I contemplated his words. What does that mean, I asked my mother? “It means the new year’s almost here, “ she said.

             Memories of that time, perhaps even of that particular day, are vivid. My father was at work; sister was napping. I was too old for that, so I sat with her as she packed up Christmas. Her whole life, she fought hard to keep the blues at bay at Christmastime, for the holiday brought on sad memories of her straitened childhood.  I didn’t understand why she was in such a hurry to get back to normal, as she put it.  She was always glad to see New Year’s day come and go, and to put Christmas on the shelf, or up in the attic, for another year.

            Two days after Christmas, I feel my mother’s spirit in the room, rising up. Time to close up Christmas for this year—is it too soon to start?

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I’m “live” today on the Jungle Red Mystery Authors Website!

Please post your questions and comments there about poetry, Walt Whitman, Dylan Thomas, Emily Dickinson, Robert Louis Stevenson. Shel Silverstein, Allen Ginsberg, Adrienne Rich, Leonard Cohen, Alice Notley, Joyce Kilmer, John Greenleaf Whittier, and more!

Here’s the website url.screen-shot-2017-02-24-at-9-04-43-am

The 365th Day

 

This is the day we do that summing up.

Annoying, isn’t it, the way

we tally and sort the year’s days

into the things –or people—we like and those

that caused us pain? We inventory

and discard, if we’re smart, whatever

no longer works, or what

carries no joy. We have this need

to take stock, as though we

were running a giant store full of

stuff, boots and gloves, or jars

of face cream and scented soaps.

This year let it alone,

think instead of the faint yellow blush

on the forsythia. Soon we can snip

its branches, hammer the stems

against the stone walk, set it all

in warm water in an old jar.

The small blooms, and then

tender green leaves will unfold

in the corner window.

Forcing spring

in midwinter.

 

Reprinted from Hedgerow, # 19

“Transitions”:My poem, “Cyber Monday” published today by Indolent Books–

as part of the poem-a-day “Transitions” Project–A poem-a-day by a different poet responding to the recent Presidential election, from Nov. 9 to Jan. 20

You can find my poem here.

An excerpt from my “Baltimore Girls” poetry collection

Here’s the opening poem from my forthcoming chapbook, Baltimore Girls, available  for pre-order now from Finishing Line Press. The poem originally appeared in the December 2015 issue of A New Ulster, a Northern Ireland literary and arts magazine.

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Salad Days

We lived at home, were always home
for dinner. We thought we dressed like women, but only
when we peeled off the school uniforms and slid into
plaid kilts, blouses with Peter Pan collars and circle pins,
loafers, on Friday night, for a church hall dance.
We thought we knew everything, though we only
knew everything about the things we read in books
or heard on the bus, or on the street. We read
magazines to learn how to flirt.
Being sophisticated meant smoking Benson and Hedges,
we wondered how old we’d have to be
to drink at a cousin’s wedding.
Our mothers thought our world was crazy.
Too much Orbison and Presley, then in a whirr,
James Brown, the man in the orange cape, and
the Beatles, who made us scream, or the
Subversive Dylan, who questioned us,
How does it feel, to be on your own?
–when our mothers wanted us to be safe,.
Take the bus to school, be home on time.
No drinking, no smoking, study hard,
Go to college. Find a nice boy. Get
married, stay in town. Our town, which
changed and burned, changed and burned again.

Some of us left, and those who
Stayed didn’t always follow the playbook.
We are neither who we were when we were sixteen
Nor are we different from who we were, inside,
even though we’ve tried like crazy to: speak up,
grow up, let go, not judge, relax, achieve, kick back,
question, breathe, believe, not believe—

Now we size ourselves up
against the dreams and goals and fantasies
we had as girls, the plans we spoke of,
the ones we hid. Back then, we didn’t say
It’s all good, but it is. The whole journey,
The paths and detours, all good, all worth
something, the living of it, the becoming,
never stepping into the same river twice.


 

 

Eve’s Diary in “South Florida Poetry Journal” November issue

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[Read the full poem  in issue 3 of the  SoFloPoJo!]

 

The garden was there before we were.

It was so easy to tend. We had only to pluck
the ripe fruits, gather flowers–
I loved the red ones best–
to fashion garlands for our hair. Mine
was long, I combed it with my fingers,
pulled it hard to one side, always to the left–
braided it so that the rope of golden hair
grazed my shoulder, fell over my breast.
We sometimes pruned branches
after the deutzia dropped its last white blooms,
tossed the clippings in the corner of our vast
yard, returned to lie under the rose-covered pergola.
We spent our days singing, entwining our limbs…

for the rest, please go here, to the SOFLOPOJo site!

 

 

Last Sunday in July

Sun, then not-sun, clouds

then not-clouds,

warm, then not-warm.

This slender land can’t

make up its mind.

Cool breezes,

fungi of every color erupt–

red, colonies of chocolate brown,

or white, something you might

find in your salad.

Not much to do save

listen to Bill Evans ply the piano,

wrestle with the crossword,

turn off the phone.

 

   –Reprinted from Old Frog Pond

The Guitar of Solitude

 

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The guitar of solitude leans on the bookshelf,
its strings loose. It’s out of tune.
Blond wood, near-perfect fingerboard,
It calls to me, mostly in the evening
After a Lenten supper of soup and bread,
No wine, water with lemon, or weak tea—
The guitar says, turn these knobs, make
My strings taut again, press your
Fingers against my wire strings, start
With something simple, like Where
Have All the Flowers Gone, move on
To rock and roll, play a riff from
Smoke on the Water or Whole
Lotta Love, come on baby, rock me
All night long, won’t you?
But there’s laundry,
Bill-paying, taking out compost,
a race to the end of the day
Chores, flossing, baby aspirin, set
The alarm. The guitar leans back
Rakishly.   Maybe tomorrow.

 

Lynne Viti

 

Reprinted from 63 Channels, April 2016

 

Making Love to You Was Like Peeling

 

Making love to you was like peeling
An onion. I teared up, holding the knife’s edge
Against paper-thin layers, pulled them
Away, one by one by one. I knew I must
Get to the tender parts of you, underneath.
Making love to you was like scraping
The hairy root vegetables, bright carrots,
The pale parsnips, the knife blade flat
Against the tubers- I needed strong hands
To hold you, to interlace my fingers with yours
To show you how desperate I was.
At night, after sex, I should have been exhausted
But I heard you turn on the shower, call
To me to join you. Afterward, I enfolded you in
A rose-colored towel big enough for two.
It was  like rinsing tender lettuces in the sink,
Wrapping them in cloth to dry.

 

Lynne Viti

 

Reprinted from 63 Channels, April 2016 issue