Image of shelter



For Alexandra Smith

So festoon the rooms from memory,
with swags of scented pine from doorways past
and a tall tree from the living room
of the long-ago house on Pinehurst Road.
String colored lights, with childhood's bright big bulbs,
drape tinsel, hang ornaments since shattered --
Gran-nanny's frail frosted pears and peaches,
blown-glass baubles packed away each year
in tissue paper as old as father.
Lay Lionel tracks on the floor and hear --
so clearly across the decades --
the woodwind whine of the locomotive,
the clatter of pressed-tin boxcars on the oval
under the tree. Rebuild the pasteboard town,
the station, church, and snowbound houses,
regrow the wire-trunked pine trees,
needles permanently frosted white,
and stand them beside the tracks,
as mother did when she was a girl.
Set out, on table or sideboard, the vanished crèche
in which Mary and Joseph, wearing
colored robes out of Sunday-school pictures,
again preside by their little manger,
and a cow chews contentedly in the shadow.

Then happily crowd the sofa and the chairs
with the missing and the missed,
grandparents dead a quarter century,
father gone 10 years, Uncle Hi and Aunt Dolly --
rare and jovial Wisconsin visitors --
Nanny laughing, her mind again intact,
trio of great-grandmothers in print dresses.
And clutter the mantle with cards
from friends long lost, grade-school classmates,
college loves, colleagues moved on.
Conjure swirls of snow outside the windows,
drifting under streetlights, decorating branches.
Remember rich scents of hot chocolate
and roasting turkey, the powdered-sugar mess
of grandmother's Russian tea cookies.
Hum choruses and airs from Handel,
verses and descants from carols memorized
for the high-school choir's Christmas concerts.
All this until, in a corner by the glowing tree,
appear the presents -- that first red bike,
the stuffed bear, the books and Matchbox cars
and microscope. What better gifts
than recollections rich as these
to savor through the dark and lonely winter?

December 2004

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