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  • Jan Flynn

The Ghosts of Christmas Past

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.

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