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Poetry: Brett Foster (1973-2015)

Our Funny Christmas Morning

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Editor's note: This is the last in a series of Christmas poems that Brett Foster sent to me shortly before he died. The first poem in the sequence, "Vessel of Sweets," was posted on December 7; the second, "Seasonable," was posted on December 21.

Our Funny Christmas

"Pencils and underwear," I said to my twelve-year-old
after he had opened and considered the first two items
from his stocking. "You're off to a great start,"
I joked, and then added, "Really, you're living large."
The underwear were grey briefs, while the pencils
were emblazoned with Major League Baseball teams.
Later, he was midway through opening a package
and said, "Oh, that's not what I thought it was,"
and I said, "Wow, great time for buzz-kill, buddy."
And even later, nearly 11 a.m. by then, I opened
a small package that included a traveler's neck pillow
and cuticle scissors, which henceforth I offered
repeatedly as a means of opening subsequent presents,
even as our teenaged daughter, in what they call "real
time," texted photos of her gifts to a circle of friends.

Then we put a bow on the dog's head, which briefly
tormented him, and appreciated the midday sunlight,
a disappointingly non-white, or off-white, Christmas,
but we still took in the view of our grey-brown
backyard. We spoke well about what practical gifts
we were giving one another. Breaking the pattern,
but perhaps not in a good way, my wife received
a VHS tape, obtained where such things are sold,
or resold, of Cary Grant in The Great Adventure.
"What you have there," I said, trying to be helpful,
"is a rom-com from 1936." Finally, my wife and I
opened in unison two unwrapped packages, the last
of the heap that had been there, so appealing and inviting
the night before and earlier this morning as the sun
emerged, generously seasonal for at least one more day.

Now it was almost gone, one more Christmas past,
or nearly so, recessional, already in the rearview mirror
of this ever orbiting world. The final packages we opened
ironically, or so we hoped, because they represented
"gifts" she and I had recently ordered for ourselves,
and then, sensing we didn't need them immediately,
we decided to ditch them under the tree to ensure
at least one desirable object. Hers was a black bowl
in which you placed a white-glazed orb resembling
a small ostrich egg—an air humidifier, apparently.
Mine was a used copy of George W. McClure's
Sorrow and Consolation in Italian Humanism. Both "gifts,"
granted, were suitably weird.

As for the kids, they
enjoyed most of all the money they collected, arriving
from faraway aunts in starchy white envelopes.
A five-dollar bill had had its image pressed onto
the blank side of the card's innards, and my son
thought that was the coolest thing of the whole morning.
For some reason my mother included in one
package my high-school yearbook photo, all slicked-
back hair and stiff navy jacket. What a riot, but why?
I gave each of my children books that neither likely
will look at in the near future. But that's also ok.

Here's what I'm saying: I know it must sound horrendous,
all of these off-kilter details, behaviors, and possible abrasions,
but trust me, it wasn't, it wasn't at all. Far from sorrowful,
the morning was packed with laughter, so much of it,
plenteous, and feeling so fitting for this clearest of mornings,
and brightest, too, whether the sun would actually shine
upon Chicago or not, and no matter how much life's
events overshadowed us. Our hearts were clear then,
and lightened, unwrapped, opened to one another.
It was as if we ourselves were the best gifts we gave.
Overall, we have so little time together, you know? And so,
as a final present, it seemed more than appropriate
to pick up the cardboard cylinder from some used-up
wrapping paper and declare it a fancy "beat stick,"
which I used, gently and comically, to tap on family
members. Now, I know that's especially not funny,
I realize that, but this is how we spent our particular
Christmas morning. Maybe your morning was different,
and that's fine. More dignified, formal, and ritualized
in numerous respects, and that's fine and good, too.
For all of us, that morning, everything was just fine.

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