Christmas Eve Again, Thank God

All the stores close their registers, bolt their glass doors.
All the shoppers go home, except one who explores
the car park for hoof prints, for he’s hoping to find
the traces of reindeer. They have left him behind.

He’d stopped for one eggnog, and he had the worst luck,
for who should be sitting in the Feather and Duck?
His mate from the Navy, drinking sloe gin and lime.
They ranted old chanteys and he lost track of time.
They rejigged the hornpipe then they spliced the main brace.
As dusk came his buddy fell flat on his face.

He’d paid both their tabs from his good buddy’s cash,
left a note in his vest, ‘Don’t go throw up the sash.’
Now amok in the car park, casting light with his nose,
he attracts folks’ attention. They notice his clothes,
his felt-padded belly, fin de siècle high boots.
‘Hey, dude, you and Batman, are you two in cahoots?’

Déjà vu thoughts, history that’s happened before,
make him run to a diner, make him pound on its door.
‘Let me in. You will like me, for giving’s my bag.’

‘Come in, Hansel.’ His greeter’s a grotty old hag
who jerks him inside, saying, ‘You’re safe here from harm.
Oh, I so loved your sister, especially her arm.’

As gingerly, quietly, he breaks from her grip
to go dash up her chimney, surprised at his clip,
he notes he’s so agile it must be a gift.

‘Gift’ causes him panic as his redlined mind shifts
to the job he’s been trusted with: flying the skies
bringing presents to children. ‘My reindeer!’ he cries.
‘They’ve deserted me sadly. This evening will go
to the dogs like some royals I press-release know.
To the pits like some pols who this year gained their fat
by skinning poor peasants and avoiding the VAT.
I’m running on empty while the men who run guns
pay for adverts portraying them as better than nuns.
The guardians of Gaia have lost every round
this year to consumers, while sly pundits have found
silver linings invented to draw oohs and ahhs
from the rabble (that’s me) who could care less because
we can’t find clear targets for to focus our rage
and beliefs are derided. Pedestrian age!’

As his cri de cœur echoes through uncaring streets
an angel approaches, bearing kindness and sweets.
She embraces the sad man: ‘You’re muddled and lost.
All the chances we’ve sent you are toys you’ve tossed
from your crib into the river. You’ve tried not to soar.
You’re a raving lost tot. Never mind ‘never more.’
Here’s a new chance for Christmas (its meaning, you know).
Here’s a sleigh, brand new reindeer, and a leg up. Now go.
To the top of your courage, to the end of the mall,
to the places you dream of. I will let you fall,
but I won’t let it hurt you the grey, deadly way
that not caring shells you. Go out now, and play.’

As his angel departs him, he straightens his spine,
then whistles his eight deer, perhaps they are nine.
‘It’s Christmas, me hearties, and we’re ready for flight.
Merry Christmas to all, and to all a good night!’

Christmas Fire Cat

I threw a crumb of cheeses into the fire
and logs fell over. Flames licked blue. Pine snapped.

The tiny crumb, a molten mote no higher
than the hat on the flea on the elf’s coat, flared and mapped
itself into a shadow flash that flew
on flue wards, a one-molecule fondue
that no one noted except the elf, and me,
and the flea in her tiny too-tight Christmas hat.
What spirit of the hearth had set it free?

‘’Twas me,’ the smoke spoke, arched, became a cat.

The flea, the elf, and I stared at the cat.
Though it heard the flea’s faint ‘How’d you do that?’ shout,
at first the cat ignored us while it sat
and licked its fur, the burned bits winking out.
Then it sized us up and I thought I saw it smile.

‘I’m the Christmas Cat, and I’ve come to help you while
away the hours that fuel this Christmas Eve.
You spent the morning driving yourselves to near
depression pricing presents, and then came home to grieve.
Not one of you remembers Christmas cheer.’

‘I do,’ the elf said. ‘When younger, I believed
that the dirty old man I helped was Santa Claus.
He told me, ‘Here’s your bonus, up this sleeve,’
and he took advantage. I still see his paws…’

‘You are making that up, you naughty lying twit!’
the cat hissed, clawing where the elf would sit.

But the elf, even quicker, hung himself from the mantel with care,
so the cat, saving face, confronted the Yule flea and me.
‘Today in the sun when you three were enjoying the air,’
she asked, ‘did you think beyond lunch and the beach and the sea?’

The flea in her too-tight hat piped, ‘I remember
when the snow would grow, and you would tell us stories.’

The Christmas Cat thought hard on that. An ember
in her fur glowed gold. ‘Ghosts,’ the flea said. ‘Glories.’

The cat purred, pleased as gin becomes with lime.
‘Listen,’ she said. ‘Once upon a time…’

And the elf re-joined the little Yule flea and me
while we stared the fire down and listened to the cat
as she retold old tales: Nativity,
and mistletoe hunts, and more nearly as good as that.

Christmas ‘Eve’ on Spanish Hill

Yeats’ priest persists in baying at my moon
or is it me, too soon exposed to dogs,
who hears the curate and the canine in
each night sound starting black bats from the bogs?

I hug my hands together till the cold
they nursed in solitude begins to thaw.
I tell myself the quietly moving shade
that paces me cannot be what I saw

or thought I saw: Two moons split up the clouds.
The rift revealed the outline of a man
as tall as Yeats was, ragged-edged and wide
enough to be three men, and a wagon span

of oxen boxed with Borax mules for a child
who still believes in Christmas, or in life.
And he or it, or maybe they, all float
up to the here-and-now where fear runs rife.

Some other things cry carols in the mist.
I know the tunes and no one knows the words
or even what the language ought to be
when maidens sing this while the hero girds

his loins to keep them maidens. There’s a lapse
of feeling, tone gets lowered, and the breeze
is a kaleidoscope: all different songs
that I hum with trepidation till I sneeze

and draw the shade’s attention. ‘It is time.’
Its words make me believe again in life
and hope to have some years of it ahead.
The moons illuminate the shade’s Buck knife;

it swings to cut my no’s off and I’m swung
up on the spirit’s back and into space,
and we’re travelling to a linen children’s book
and though its pages, to a secret place.

A golden mountain, talking sheep, a king
and wizards wearing hobbit boots appear
and disappear as pages turn and blur
my vision, or is this mist spun from tears?

‘Behold the wonder,’ a cold voice says.
‘Remember when your world was yours and new
because you thought it so, when you believed?
What happened to it when you thought you grew?’

I see his knife grow handles like a scythe,
and other stories I had stopped believing
come tumbling from an index in my head;
but, even as I cower, the shade’s leaving

and the tome is closing. Collar follows sound
and I’m between the covers of a book
as big and dead as London after hours
and Fagin steals the light each place I look.

And then a tiny toddling chubby sprite
got up in diapers gets up from a crib
and sings the song that Cher sang on that ship
and tells me, ‘Hurry, mortal! Don this bib,’

which makes such little sense of course I do
in hopes that if it’s meaningless, I dream.
‘The hope of your existence!’ Baby says.
‘What scares you so that waking makes you scream?’

‘Why do you act the mummy while you’re living?
Why toss each chance for action on the skip?
You’re courting Death, impression that you’re giving
him, standing head down planning to jump ship.’

I rush to answer: ‘Baby, Sophocles
was write that knowledge brings us gnawed-butt grief.’
The sprite rejoins, ‘I’d like to help you (spell)
but time is up. You’re due to meet my chief.’

More through miasma than through guided flight
we jingle through a jungle of near bliss,
of random joys and broken toys and eyes
made large by Kohl or larger by smack’s kiss

and always Baby hurries onward shouting
‘Don’t you love it, Bubba honey? This is life!’
until the moon refocuses on lawns
where squads troop colours paced by drum and fife.

Tired out, I want to fall but find I’m prone
upon the ground and also to one-liners
and to iambic lines made of ten words
and to Pentecostal virgins, dragons, Shriners

and fatty foods and heavy wines and coolers
propped full with bonefish filleted on ice.
I’m warming to my own made-up religions
when Baby says, ‘We’re here.’ I hear ‘That’s nice’.

Those last two words reveal and introduce
a Voice that I always, always dream
that I will hear and fall in love with, and I do.
Hummingbirds tongue treacle from the stars
and sing it onto Dali’s roof as glue

that anchors tiger paws in Cadaqués
while all their maws meow here at the Falls
and oranges blossom, as I turn to face
this chief muse, goddess, woman who enthrals

me, turns my leaving doubts to shouts of joy
that I drink in silence, laving every part
until like heated helium I fly up
to join her in adventures of the heart.

I hope I wake before I die to write
the strange and joyous things I see tonight.
If I should wake before I die I’ll live
somewhere forever with my Christmas ‘Eve.’

Killing Fields The Way of Life?

six voices among the airwaves of today

Code Of Nomads With Little To Lose
Achieving anything at all takes balls
of muscles working hard; takes agile brains
alert to border squalls and heeding calls
of opportunity for causing strains
among the richer, snatching their remains
up first. Go further, help their children drown
in crib-taught doubt that enervates. Cast down
whole tribes in spirals, fearful they’ll be gassed
unless they do our will. Expand our frown:
shake knees to keep heads buried up their past.

Arriving From The West
Eternal life of ease, unruffled life
that moves from crib until retirement’s watch
is broken without serious fear, where ‘knife’
is but a tool, a metaphor to notch
our poesy. The Poll Pot horrid botch
of lives, its piling up of just-dead skulls
is gross, grotesque. This put-out food for gulls
in patterns we choose not to see demeans
our sense of good. We banish them as culls
and rejects. But, they’ve reached the Philippines.

Arriving from the East
When Istanbul became a Turkish town,
when Byzantine’s last emperors lost the day
and faded out in 1453
(or were impaled, the epic details slip),
it was another eager apex step
for ideas growing stronger still today
among the brethren in the Middle East,
South Africa, and maybe San Antoine,
about the proper role for Roman gods
and you and me descended from their spawn.
To be converted may exceed our reach
and once the Jihad beats us we may find
our love of dogs and barbecue is seen
as evidence for pogrom cleansing’s need
to purge us Europeans who have spread
and ruled the pecking order for a time
that we, used to our riches, think won’t end.

Don’t Worry
We give them tribute, call it foreign aid,
and are astounded not to get back love.
Why aren’t our good deeds lauded? We have paid
at least the finger back of our iron glove
we’ve wrapped in velvet, calling God above
to sanction ways we’ve brought them with the sword
along with wasting sickness and The Word.
How dare these others claim their god is true;
that now the times abandon us; raise Kurd
and man of Bosnia and near-dead Sioux?

Do Worry
Now never ever venture to forget
that we don’t need ourselves to criticise
ourselves. Such ways will only bring regret
to those of us surviving. We’ll be wise
and worthy slaves of hard men who despise
our private slant on what is free and just.
Like apes and bees, all creatures made from dust,
our fate’s to kill or die in the attempt
to stretch our genes and memes until they thrust
all rivals into graves. On guard. Pre-empt!


six voices among the airwaves of today
Killing Fields The Way of Life?

Coronation

What can the women say about the pails
of beer the sexton’s ordered me to place
at intervals around the cemetery?
As little, I imagine, as they said
about the naked lodger at the parson’s.
They as a rule are not that much for words.
They keep their counsel, keep their clothes on till
Dionysus commands nocturnal presence
and suddenly at the bottom of the hill
there’s only sexton, pastor, churchyard, me.

Their music, scarcely audible down here
to humans, makes the dogs crawl under beds
and beer that had gone flat among the headstones
gains body and a modicum of froth.
What tourists think are fairy lights ignite
the ridges, and another young man’s missing.
Returning women rinse their faces clear
and walk unseeing past us to their beds
and dogs come out and stretch and sniff the breeze.
The one I throw a stick for bites the sexton.

The sexton tells me I can have the pails,
says there was no naked lodger. I go home
and smell the day-old beer, avoid the bed.
Dionysus has weathered leaner times.
A garland and a heavy, pointed stick
and pieces of a cat lie on the hearth.
I can’t abide the smell of fires gone out.
I hear the parson outside, softly crying
and saying were the candles here on time
there would be no women sleeping in today.

The sexton’s answer’s mumbled and I miss
what held delivery up; a washed-out road
was blamed the last time. We don’t have police.
One woman does the laundry. One pours tea.
The one who never would return my gaze
stares at me till I blink. She takes my hand
and leads me to the parsonage where mead
and meat and biscuits and a ruby wine
are given to me, and a splendid room.
She asks for and I give her all my clothes.

Time Shifts in No Time

The species he’d just been and the one he was now
had never coexisted, he knows from reading.
He thinks this means that now he is in No Time.

He feels sulky in his immense and Saurian self,
each ponderous step one hundred paces of scampering
when he had been, till Tuesday past, a squirrel.

‘Think back,’ he tells himself. He thinks he thinks.
The time before the squirrel, what had he been?
Book reader, but what more? And what were books?

On the edge of something (maybe, nothing’s sure)
he assembles what were reasons some lives back.
Rhyming — what was that? — had seemed so pure.
Now he is less than bothered by its lack.

‘Or lack of lack,’ he giggles. A morass quakes.
He takes a step, another, and one more.
He plunges, wallows in the wake he makes
as his expanding body nears a shore.

Or edge. Or crevice. Chasm! Nothing’s right.
His body, just now massive, turns to light.

Burnt Ochre Battalions

Prologue

He thought, ‘I could get into this book I’m reading
or indulge in illicit love all afternoon.’
Not true. He lived alone with unread books
in a low-rent high-rise far out near the sea.
His penknife broke his pencil point. He wept
for as long as he’d read that heroes should. His cat
made sounds from purring care to impolite.

Together he and the cat walked to the door
and back again. And sat. They heard the wind.
They imagined hearing waves break shells and shale.

What they actually heard was moaning. ‘Let him loose,’
he told the cat. Who did. They watched the mouse,
too traumatised too long to hope, believe
it was free to go. It wasn’t. The cat struck
the last midnight for the mouse. So little blood.

The doorbell rang. The candle gutted. Wires
implanted in the carpet glowed and smoked.
‘It’s your turn,’ said the cat. He half agreed.
He threw open the door, winced and said, ‘Come in.’

The hooded creature, tall, without a face,
came in and brought the front door in behind him.
No outside left, no single place to run to.
‘I might as well,’ he thought out loud, and died.

‘Not so fast,’ the apparition said. ‘You have a task.
Your so-far clueless life acquires a mission.’
It handed him a wax-sealed parchment scroll.
He saw the cat was packing for a journey:
catnip, roach clips, goggles, tinned sardines,
and a silver whistle polished like a mirror.
‘You know more than I do, Cat,’ he said.

The apparition rubbed sand where the mouse had bled.
It said, ‘You both are criminals. That was foretold.
Get out, get out. Get out! I’m getting old.’

Outside was colder than he had remembered.
He carried the cat in both hands, like a muff.
The backpack the cat cradled weighed them down.
He walked the ridge, descended through the mist
to the shale that bore the onslaught of the sea
so easily that he said, ‘Eternity.’

‘Not ours,’ the cat said. ‘I think it’s time we read
our marching orders. Break the crimson seal.’

He tried and slipped. A rogue wave took the scroll.
The cat’s paw swiped and saved the red wax seal.

They shared the wax. As they chewed it, crimson fumes
spelled out instructions the cat read aloud:

‘Proceed to and surmount New Mountain Ridge.
Descend and commandeer a sturdy boat.
Sail to and anchor above St. Paul’s Cathedral.
Wait there for further orders. Don’t be late.’

That’s all?’ he asked the cat. ‘No how or when?’
The cat shook her head as he carried her up the beach.
New Mountain Ridge shown icily ahead
but the intervening forest was pitch dark.

Night fell further. The cat said, ‘We must camp.’
She, the cat, climbed a tall oak tree.
She let a length of coloured cord descend.
‘Tie it,’ she said, ‘to the ladder in our pack.’

He, the man, looked in the pack and found
among the catnip and the tinned sardines
and a snarl of things for which he had no name,
a ladder lashed from ropes and wooden rungs.

He tied it to the cord. The cat pulled it up
and made it fast. She called down, ‘Hurry, climb!’
With his rucksack swinging wide the man climbed slowly
until he saw red eyes below him. Then he sprinted.

From a moss-blurred branch they watched broad lowering creatures
congregating at the oak tree’s base, and sniffling
and exhaling, turning wet leaves into ash.

‘Don’t breathe a word,’ the cat joked. He said, ‘Hush.’
The no-neck creatures heard but could not gaze
upwards. He said, ‘Good you packed a ladder.’
‘And a small sword,’ said the cat. ‘But they are big.’

They watched the creatures circle. Then one stopped.
Its right side opened up. A man jumped out.

‘Those are vehicles,’ the cat said. ‘Like in old books.’
He shushed her, ‘Please be silent.’ Hours passed

in the seconds that the strange broad man below
looked up into the branches, seeing dark
and nothing else. He got back in his ‘truck’
—the word the cat kept whispering— and drove off.


The other trucks kept circling, burning leaves.