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.