A found poem

Image by Oberholster Venita from Pixabay

I’ve been thinking a lot about the changing shape of Christmas. No surprise there: this is a Christmas season like none other. This Christmas will be smaller, quieter, and much more contained, for reasons I hardly need to mention.

But with our children grown and our family living at distant points all over the West, Christmas has been reducing its dimensions for some time now. Every year, as I trim our tree — once a twenty-foot extravaganza, whittled gradually down to a 3-foot tree-let sparkling in a niche by the fireplace — I’m caught for a time in wistfulness for what was.

Those big, busy holidays were so full of life and energy and excitement. They were also full of stress, exhaustion, and usually at least one of us with a serious case of the sniffles. I sometimes felt like an event manager more than a mom, and there never seemed to be enough time.

I was recently scrolling through a file of pieces written and filed away, and unearthed this poem from about four years ago. I’d forgotten about it — but it seems to fit this Christmas season. I offer it to you with warm wishes.

In the Wake of Christmas

In time gone, when the big house filled
With children and food and the breath of relatives
Marking together the sparkling zenith of
Days and weeks set apart

All for the purpose of coiling a sense
Of urgency, of expectation,
Limned with brightness glowing or garish,
The annual yearning toward magic

And belief that it could be. So much to
Be done, I would start months ahead
Hoping to manage the spiraling build
Toward that one day

Gifts purchased and hidden, cards
Addressed and stamped, dates held
In reserve for parties and visits, school programs,
The ritual drive to witness the lights

Displayed to render sacred the ordinary.
The stakes were once so high
And inescapable, insistent music everywhere
A goad toward action

All effort mounting to the singularity
That swept each of us into our ordained spaces,
Hosts or guests, keepers of the feast,
Children with fevered eyes whirling in the midst.

Years remake us, advancing us to the spaces
Once taken by those we lose. Sons grown
To manhood, parents and lovers vanishing behind
Us, ourselves continually surprised

At what we’re becoming. Meanwhile, things
Calm down. We are satisfied with tokens, quiet days,
And the memory of breathless uproar, noting
How so much becomes simpler as mystery approaches.


  1. Wow! Add “poet” to your impressive list of titles. Beautiful poem, Jan. I think you express the feelings of so many of us empty-nesters at Christmas time. All I can say is this: wait until grandchildren come along! 😉

    • Glad you liked it, Laurie! And yes, everyone I know with grandchildren assures me there is nothing like it, and that I should acquire one or more as soon as possible 🙂

  2. Oh my, Jan! This is so strangely timely… you could easily have written it in RESPONSE to this bizarre year we are in. Despite our downsized tree, I have managed to squeeze EVERY ornament we own onto its already drying branches, as a kind of protest against the downsizing of the holidays. And today I’m going to bake my mother’s favorite holiday cookies, because… that’s another holiday thing I can still do. Love and miss you, A

    • Love and miss you right back, Anni, and here’s to fully savoring the things we can still do this year. One thing I’m doing is making limoncello from our little bitty but generous Meyer lemon tree. Saving you a bottle 🙂

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