December 25: “The Christmas Letter”

Wherever you are when you receive this letter
I write to say we are still ourselves
In the same place
And hope you are the same.

The dead have died as you know
And will never get better,
And the children are boys and girls
of their several ages and names.

So in closing I send you our love
And hope to hear from you soon.
There is never a time
Like the present. It lasts forever
Wherever you are. As ever I remain.

– John N. Morris

December 24: “A Visit from St. Nicholas”

‘Twas the night before Christmas, when all through the house
Not a creature was stirring, not even a mouse;
The stockings were hung by the chimney with care,
In hopes that St. Nicholas soon would be there;
The children were nestled all snug in their beds,
While visions of sugar-plums danced in their heads;
And mamma in her ’kerchief, and I in my cap,
Had just settled our brains for a long winter’s nap,
When out on the lawn there arose such a clatter,
I sprang from the bed to see what was the matter.
Away to the window I flew like a flash,
Tore open the shutters and threw up the sash.
The moon on the breast of the new-fallen snow
Gave the lustre of mid-day to objects below,
When, what to my wondering eyes should appear,
But a miniature sleigh, and eight tiny reindeer,
With a little old driver, so lively and quick,
I knew in a moment it must be St. Nick.
More rapid than eagles his coursers they came,
And he whistled, and shouted, and called them by name;
“Now, Dasher! now, Dancer! now, Prancer and Vixen!
On, Comet! on, Cupid! on, Donder and Blitzen!
To the top of the porch! to the top of the wall!
Now dash away! dash away! dash away all!”
As dry leaves that before the wild hurricane fly,
When they meet with an obstacle, mount to the sky;
So up to the house-top the coursers they flew,
With the sleigh full of Toys, and St. Nicholas too.
And then, in a twinkling, I heard on the roof
The prancing and pawing of each little hoof.
As I drew in my head, and was turning around,
Down the chimney St. Nicholas came with a bound.
He was dressed all in fur, from his head to his foot,
And his clothes were all tarnished with ashes and soot;
A bundle of Toys he had flung on his back,
And he looked like a pedler just opening his pack.
His eyes—how they twinkled! his dimples how merry!
His cheeks were like roses, his nose like a cherry!
His droll little mouth was drawn up like a bow
And the beard of his chin was as white as the snow;
The stump of a pipe he held tight in his teeth,
And the smoke it encircled his head like a wreath;
He had a broad face and a little round belly,
That shook when he laughed, like a bowlful of jelly.
He was chubby and plump, a right jolly old elf,
And I laughed when I saw him, in spite of myself;
A wink of his eye and a twist of his head,
Soon gave me to know I had nothing to dread;
He spoke not a word, but went straight to his work,
And filled all the stockings; then turned with a jerk,
And laying his finger aside of his nose,
And giving a nod, up the chimney he rose;
He sprang to his sleigh, to his team gave a whistle,
And away they all flew like the down of a thistle,
But I heard him exclaim, ere he drove out of sight,
“Happy Christmas to all, and to all a good-night.”

— Clement Clarke Moore

December 3: “Perhaps the World Ends Here”

The world begins at a kitchen table. No matter what, we must eat to live.

The gifts of earth are brought and prepared, set on the table. So it has been since creation, and it will go on.

We chase chickens or dogs away from it. Babies teethe at the corners. They scrape their knees under it.

It is here that children are given instructions on what it means to be human. We make men at it, we make women.

At this table we gossip, recall enemies and the ghosts of lovers.

Our dreams drink coffee with us as they put their arms around our children. They laugh with us at our poor falling-down selves and as we put ourselves back together once again at the table.

This table has been a house in the rain, an umbrella in the sun.

Wars have begun and ended at this table. It is a place to hide in the shadow of terror. A place to celebrate the terrible victory.

We have given birth on this table, and have prepared our parents for burial here.

At this table we sing with joy, with sorrow. We pray of suffering and remorse. We give thanks.

Perhaps the world will end at the kitchen table, while we are laughing and crying, eating of the last sweet bite.

— Joy Harjo

November 6: “Butter”

My mother loves butter more than I do,
more than anyone. She pulls chunks off
the stick and eats it plain, explaining
cream spun around into butter! Growing up
we ate turkey cutlets sauteed in lemon
and butter, butter and cheese on green noodles,
butter melting in small pools in the hearts
of Yorkshire puddings, butter better
than gravy staining white rice yellow,
butter glazing corn in slipping squares,
butter the lava in white volcanoes
of hominy grits, butter softening
in a white bowl to be creamed with white
sugar, butter disappearing into
whipped sweet potatoes, with pineapple,
butter melted and curdy to pour
over pancakes, butter licked off the plate
with warm Alaga syrup. When I picture
the good old days I am grinning greasy
with my brother, having watched the tiger
chase his tail and turn to butter. We are
Mumbo and Jumbo’s children despite
historical revision, despite
our parent’s efforts, glowing from the inside
out, one hundred megawatts of butter.

— Elizabeth Alexander

October 24: “Potato Soup”

I set up my computer and webcam in the kitchen
so I can ask my mother’s and aunt’s advice
as I cook soup for the first time alone.
My mother is in Utah. My aunt is in Hungary.
I show the onions to my mother with the webcam.
“Cut them smaller,” she advises.
“You only need a taste.”
I chop potatoes as the onions fry in my pan.
When I say I have no paprika to add to the broth,
they argue whether it can be called potato soup.
My mother says it will be white potato soup,
my aunt says potato soup must be red.
When I add sliced peppers, I ask many times
if I should put the water in now,
but they both say to wait until I add the potatoes.
I add Polish sausage because I can’t find Hungarian,
and I cook it so long the potatoes fall apart.
“You’ve made stew,” my mother says
when I hold up the whole pot to the camera.
They laugh and say I must get married soon.
I turn off the computer and eat alone.

— Daniel Nyikos

October 23: “Whose Mouth Do I Speak With”

I can remember my father bringing home spruce gum.
He worked in the woods and filled his pockets
with golden chunks of pitch.
For his children
he provided this special sacrament
and we’d gather at this feet, around his legs,
bumping his lunchbox, and his empty thermos rattled inside.
Our skin would stick to Daddy’s gluey clothing
and we’d smell like Mumma’s Pine Sol.
We had no money for store bought gum
but that’s all right.
The spruce gum
was so close to chewing amber
as though in our mouths we held the eyes of Coyote
and how many other children had fathers
that placed on their innocent, anxious tongue
the blood of tree?

— Suzanne Rancourt

October 2: “Faithful Forest”

1.

I will wait, said wood, and it did.
Ten years, a hundred, a thousand, a million—

It did not matter.  Time was not its measure,
Not its keeper, nor its master.

Wood was trees in those first days.
And when wood sang, it was leaves,

Which took flight and became birds.
2.

It is still forest here, the forest of used-to-be.
Its trees are the trees of memory.

Their branches—so many tongues, so many hands—
They still speak a story to those who will listen.

By only looking without listening, you will not hear the trees.
You will see only hard stone and flattened landscape,

But if you’re quiet, you will hear it.
3.

The leaves liked the wind, and went with it.
The trees grew more leaves, but wind took them all.

And then the bare trees were branches, which in their frenzy
Made people think of so many ideas—

Branches were lines on the paper of sky,
Drawing shapes on the shifting clouds

Until everyone agreed that they saw horses.
4.

Wood was also the keeper of fires.
So many people lived from what wood gave them.

The cousins of wood went so many places
Until almost nobody was left—that is the way

Of so many families.  But wood was steadfast
Even though it was hard from loneliness.  Still,

I will wait, said wood, and it did.

— Alberto Rios

August 15: “For My Grandmother’s Perfume, Norell”

Because your generation didn’t wear perfume
but chose a scent—a signature—every day
you spritzed a powerhouse floral with top
notes of lavender and mandarin, a loud
smell one part Doris Day, that girl-next-door
who used Technicolor to find a way to laugh about
husbands screwing their secretaries over lunch,
the rest all Faye Dunaway, all high drama
extensions of nails and lashes, your hair a
a breezy fall of bangs, a stiletto entrance
that knew to walk sideways, hip first:
now watch a real lady descend the stairs.

Launched in 1968, Norell
was the 1950s tingling with the beginning
of Disco; Norell was a housewife tired of gospel,
mopping her house to Stevie Wonder instead.

You wore so much of it, tiny pockets
of your ghost lingered hours after you
were gone, and last month, I stalked
a woman wearing your scent through
the grocery so long I abandoned
my cart and went home. Fanny, tell me:
How can manufactured particles carry you
through the air? I always express what I see,
but it was no photo that
stopped and queased me to my knees.

After all these years, you were an invisible
trace, and in front of a tower of soup cans
I was a simple animal craving the deep memory
worn by a stranger oblivious of me. If I had courage,
the kind of fool I’d like to be,
I would have pressed my face to her small
shoulder, and with the sheer work of
two pink lungs, I would have breathed
enough to
conjure
you back
to me.

— Nickole Brown

August 6: “Route 684, Southbound Rest Stop”

So you see why it could not have been a more humble moment.
If there was any outward sign of regalia
It might have been the twilight crowning of the day, just then,
A perfect moment of dusk, but changing, as a wave does
Even as you admire it. Because the southbound stop
Mirrors the one northbound where we so often find ourselves
At the beginning, southbound’s return holds the memory
Of northbound’s setting-out, and the grassy median between
With its undisturbed trees defines an elusive strip of the present
Where no one lives. After twenty-eight years of the trip,
It’s like two beakers of colored water — one green, one blue —
Have poured themselves back and forth, because
On one side we are tinted by remembering the other.
But this aspect of the journey, at least, we know we will repeat.
As dusk cohered that moment — aquas, pinks, violets —
Just at that moment as I was returning to the car
A woman came the other way, her two young daughters
Holding her hands, and the gloaming sparkled around them
So that I froze, as they were backlit, starry,
They were the southbound reminder of who I had been beginning
The trip. She didn’t look like me, but what I did recognize
Was her clarity of purpose, in what Sharon Olds called
the days of great usefulness, making life as nice
As she could for them, always writing the best story,
And also, beneath her skin, living with delight as quiet
As the shoots anchoring grass beneath the earth.
I walked back to my car. My husband sat in the driver’s seat,
Our weekend’s luggage thrown in back.
Tell me we really had those girls, I said,
and that they held my hands like that. When I got home
I pictured her helping them each into bed — I knew it was
Later than she had hoped — then reading
Each section of the paper’s terrible news, finally alone.
— Jessica Greenbaum

July 4: “Day of the Refugios”

In Mexico and Latin America, celebrating one’s
Saint’s day instead of one’s birthday is common.

I was born in Nogales, Arizona,
On the border between
Mexico and the United States.

The places in between places
They are like little countries
Themselves, with their own holidays

Taken a little from everywhere.
My Fourth of July is from childhood,
Childhood itself a kind of country, too.

It’s a place that’s far from me now,
A place I’d like to visit again.
The Fourth of July takes me there.

In that childhood place and border place
The Fourth of July, like everything else,
It meant more than just one thing.

In the United States the Fourth of July
It was the United States.
In Mexico it was the día de los Refugios,

The saint’s day of people named Refugio.
I come from a family of people with names,
Real names, not-afraid names, with colors

Like the fireworks: Refugio,
Margarito, Matilde, Alvaro, Consuelo,
Humberto, Olga, Celina, Gilberto.

Names that take a moment to say,
Names you have to practice.
These were the names of saints, serious ones,

And it was right to take a moment with them.
I guess that’s what my family thought.
The connection to saints was strong:

My grandmother’s name—here it comes—
Her name was Refugio,
And my great-grandmother’s name was Refugio,

And my mother-in-law’s name now,
It’s another Refugio, Refugios everywhere,
Refugios and shrimp cocktails and sodas.

Fourth of July was a birthday party
For all the women in my family
Going way back, a party

For everything Mexico, where they came from,
For the other words and the green
Tinted glasses my great-grandmother wore.

These women were me,
What I was before me,
So that birthday fireworks in the evening,

All for them,
This seemed right.
In that way the fireworks were for me, too.

Still, we were in the United States now,
And the Fourth of July,
Well, it was the Fourth of July.

But just what that meant,
In this border place and time,
it was a matter of opinion in my family.

— Alberto Ríos