It is December, and in this part of Florida that simply means that a morning jacket is advised, and rain comes as a bit of a surprise. A neighbour was surprised to be told that they decorated like a Northerner, but assumed that it was a bit of a dig, though they thought the inflatable snowman and reindeer captured the season’s spirit. We laugh at the red hat wearing flamingo’s and the Christmas alligators, the lighted palm trees seem appropriate and snowflakes, even lit ones, know better than to appear, for the mocking of ibis and egrets can be unmerciful. So we’ll settle for our odd little tree with its lifetime of ornaments, each carrying with it the spirit of a day when we ought to ask ourselves what we can do to prepare the world for the generations we hope will follow.
First published in The Poet: Christmas, December 2020 (United Kingdom)
The clouds well up over the foothills casting a gray pall, bearing the angry spirits of the chindi who dance amid the scrub juniper. Brother Serra, was this what you found, wandering along the coast, tending the odd sheep, Indian and whatever else crossed your path?
The blue bird hopping across the dried grasses puffing its grey breastplate and cape sitting back, its long tail feathers a perfect counterbalance. It stares at the oppressing clouds and senses the impending rain. The horses wandering the hill pausing to graze on the sparse green grasses. The roan mare stares at the colt dashing among the trees then returns to her meal, awaiting the onset of evening.
The chindi await the fall of night when they are free to roam and steal other souls. Was your water rite more powerful than the blessing chants? Did you ward off their evil and purify the breeze of the mountains?
It is the eyes that fall in love, the heart that follows like an always faithful shadow, and the mind and reason that are bound to darkness and silence.
That is what I learned in my dream last night, or my recollection of it, for dreams may fade in the sharp light of morning.
But dreams have a potent magic, a holiness really, for there I can resurrect the dead and if the mood is right, bend back the arrow of time, render it dimensionless, all the while I remain constant, but certain with any luck, in someone else’s dream, I may be a child, a young man, or any of a thousand other roles I cannot imagine.
I saw a picture of you today, although I can’t be certain when it was taken, and while I can easily say that you look exactly as I remember you, that is saying nothing really, for moments after I took the picture we said goodbye to each other, intending to meet again, knowing the chances of that were minuscule.
I have returned your picture to a place of safekeeping where, some months or years from now, I will pull it out and remark that you look exactly as I remember you, but more importantly, perhaps, I will be keeping you alive, and in this fraught world, that is something to be appreciated, even if you haven’t the vaguest idea it is happening
Be well dear friend, and if not, be eternal for a bit longer, be you dead or much alive.
The most important lessons he taught were in those moments when he was absolutely silent, the smile across his face shouting across the background din of everyday life, his eyes wide with a sort of childish awe that I had long since given up as adolescent.
The child sees everything for the first time regardless how many times she has gazed at what we adults are certain is the same scene, a pure iteration, hears each call of the cardinal as a never-before-heard song, not the now boring chorus of a too long repeated lyric, its melody now painful.
His lessons too easily slipped away, as he did a few years later, mourning a poor substitute for memories that eased into the damp ground with him, but the smile of my granddaughter at seemingly everything and nothing, her laughter at the squirrel inverted from the crook arm of the bird feeder defying the shield below to stop his constant thefts, the giggles at the clouds filling the sky with characters I could not hope to see, brought him back, and with him the joys of my childhood long suppressed.
I’ve always imagined that one of these nights I’d see my mother’s ghost. I would welcome the sight welcome she that bore me, not she that stepped in in a way,absolving my birth mother of her sin, while assuming adopting me would make her complete.
She hasn’t visited yet, neither has done so, but I hold out hope, it is after all the last to go, and I do hear her voice, faint and all too distant, sounding very much like my own one instant and then no more than a faint whisper in retreat.
I don’t need a long conversation, a few words would more than suffice, but some at least, a child should in advancing age hear the sound of a mother’s voice, if only to find solace in the fact that her choice to yield the child was made from love not defeat.