Tuesday, December 27, 2005

Cold Turkey

I wonder whether we are wedded to the Christmas ceremony more as sign of futility than anything else. I love how codified it becomes, even though those codes change. The Queen's Speech, turkey dinner, Boxing Day football, the overladen tree. In my case, and indeed in the case of many of my late 30s friends, the template remains unchanged; and the family Christmas endures even if the family doesn't. Today it snowed, briefly, as if spirit willing, but body weak. After five days of email and internet purdah you'd expect to find a full inbox, but everyone's similarly full of turkey; and in the internet wastelands of family homes, I guess. I still get presents, though Amazon.co.uk has made that a more painless transaction for us all. A couple of years ago I wrote a "Christmas Day" poem, and I like it more with the passing of time. I once wrote a little article wondering why Britain produced Larkins, and America produced Lowells. I think there's a little of both influences here, however distant.


The weather was unusually mild this year.
Mid-afternoon we strode amongst swans and coots
And Canadian geese on the grass shore of the reservoir.
In the distance our house is a dot, unique detail of a still life.
We paint only with our feet, scribing our names in dust,
Then scrubbing over them, unaccountably embarassed.
The roof of the conservation centre is moss covered,
And the lead swan, beak like a drill, badmouths at me -
I turn around - even in the natural light
Grey spots mist my eyes over, turning my head.
The unasked-for walk had somehow punctured
What usually happens - we'd sit here
Rolled-up in the floral chairs, watching the Queen's speech,
Making points off each other, having had our fill.
Each year, the same cards draped over the mantle,
From a man my dad knew in the army and the wife he'd never met
Or that old couple who were neighbours of the uncle in
I stayed out of it; leaving my best words for those I truly might love -
Tentative girls who've texted at
midnight "Hppy Xms xxx."
I know what comes next from other years,
Boiling in too close proximity, we steam over
Spilling our worst over the hob, emptying another glass.
So how come we're sat here still liking each other?
Not looking either forward or back,
Even grateful for the familiar shows, and the Christmas tape
My dad always plays. My sister, fully expectant
With their first grandchild; her husband watching the football,
And me, unused to behaving with such forbearance.
The weather was unusually mild this year.

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