. . . to look a lot like . . . just another Christmas book or movie, another Christmas song or poem. Is there anything you can write or say or perform for Christmas that hasn’t already been done, and better, sometime in the past 2000 years? There can’t be a more evocative metaphor for the arrival of the Messiah than “dancing day,” and yet we continue to compose new musical settings. The Nativity has been retold in every possible medium, from clay-mation to post-modern irony (though perhaps not yet in RealD). And yet . . .
. . . every year we search the shelves for the next perfect Christmas book for our grandson. Now that Linda’s Mom (nickname, Conan the Librarian) is no longer able to go book shopping for the entire family, Linda and I are mailing copies of our favorites to the newest nephew. And when I saw Sally Buckner’s latest collection on the Main Street Rag website, Nineteen Visions of Christmas, I had to have it.
As an educator and writer and proponent of poetry, Sally Buckner’s name is known to everyone active in the North Carolina poetry scene. But in private discourse Sally has blessed her family and friends every year with an annual Christmas poem. This book presents many of those poems to the public for the first time. It’s a diverse blend with something for the child and the adult, something contemplative, something exultant, something to make you grin. I’m fond of The Morn After Christmas – I challenge anyone to recite a line in anapestic tetrameter without conjuring Clement Moore. I choked up reading The Ballad of the Innkeeper’s Wife; I could see it being adapted for the stage. As could The North Wind Catches Christmas.
But my favorite of the series is one that’s clearly very personal to Sally, and through its distinctives and details it evokes in the reader something much larger. How many seemingly minor memories of our own past Christmases have we forgotten? How many stories have we wrapped in tissue and left boxed in the attic? Entering the world of one of Sally Buckner’s childhood Christmases, I find images flooding my mind. Day after tomorrow, when we gather around the tree, I’ll try not to forget – the best gift is to share what binds us together in love.
. . . . .
Fir trees didn’t grow in Iredell County,
and George never considered pine or hemlock,
which suited me fine: I loved the scent of cedar
spicing the entire house from the very minute
those feathery branches ruffled through the door
until right after Christmas, when we flung
its carcass, picked as clean as chicken bones
outside where it could dry till fit for firewood.
In early years, he’d combine his search
for a tree with a hunting trip, return grinning,
tree on one shoulder, rabbits on the other.
Later, when whatever disease the doctors
couldn’t find a name for drew the muscles
in his legs so tight he could barely walk –
lurched like a drunken sailor – he would drive
far out in the country, scanning the winter roadside
till he found a likely candidate, straight and full,
which he could manage to clamber to, cane
clasped in one hand, ax in the other.
Never paid or asked permission. Lord, why would he?
We were all tree-poor those days, wouldn’t miss a cedar
more than a dandelion. Nobody thought
of using tillable land for Christmas trees.
When Hoover was still making promises,
who would have laid down a cherished dollar
for something to toss away after just a week?
When George got home, he’d nail two boards in an X
for the tree’s support. I’d swath them with a blanket. The
girls would help him string the lights, then wind
cellophane garlands through the greenery.
Meanwhile I’d whip Lux flakes to a frothy lather;
dried in the branches, if you’d squint your eyes,
you’d swear that it was snow. Altogether,
it was some kind of pretty.
Eighteen years now, he’s been gone. At first,
my boy still at home, I’d buy a tree –
resenting every dollar – fix it up
the best I could all by myself. Then later,
hoisting trees got to be beyond me.
I purchased one advertised as “everlasting,”
needles, branches, trunk – all aluminum.
Don’t use lights, just big red satin balls.
The children, When they come, don’t complain.
The grandchildren exclaim, “Red and silver”
Look at it shine!”
And it lasts year after year –
not half the trouble of a woodland tree.
But I still miss the scent of cedar.
. . . . .
Sally Buckner, former journalist and English professor, is the author of two additional poetry collections: Strawberry Harvest and Collateral Damage. She also edited the anthology Word and Witness: 100 Years of North Carolina Poetry, which is an essential volume of your poetry collection; if you don’t own a copy, contact me and I’ll let you know how to order one! Sally resides in Cary, NC.
Nineteen Visions of Christmas (copyright 2011): the new poetry chapbook by Sally Buckner is available from Main Street Rag Publishing.
. . . . .
IN A DARK SEASON
Though forg has shrouded sky and hill,
I dare to dream this Christmastime
that you may tread a steady trail
with hands to hold you as you climb.
May candles fling their bravest flame
against the claim of bleakest night,
and great bells sound their silver chime
to sing the presence of the light.
. . . . .