Christmas Eve at the Epsom Circle McDonalds

A friend of mine from Wichita asked me for this poem he remembered that I wrote a few years ago. He wants to use it and change the place names to Kansas and maybe translate it into Spanish. It’s old enough it wasn’t in this computer and so I had to type it out and remember again the evening so well. I am so happy that other places might be used.

But I am happy as well to be posting this poem a couple days after Jim Delligatti died at 98 years old. He was the inventor of the “Big Mac” sandwich. And another flood of memories arrived — how much my parents liked McDonalds after they were retired because of all the children, how my own children would beg for this special treat, how all people came here in a sweet equality (criticized it, too, as it became an metaphor for America), but still came here.

Christmas Eve at the Epsom Circle McDonalds

The kids with the santa hats
are selling hamburgers
more cheerfully
because they feel the season
and are glad for early closing.
A boyfriend comes in
and hangs over the counter
pressing against
tattered garland
looped to the finger level
of children.

A family with three toddlers,
jazzy with excitement,
are traveling to Maine
in the drizzle
of the holy evening.
the littlest boy
in red and green plaid
Oshkosh runs in circles,
strangling French fries
in his hand.
Tired of the car and
already eager for
presents and bed,
his little sneakers tramp
like angel feet.

An older couple
in a corner talk quietly
about their daughter
who’s been dead
four Christmases now.
They could have gone
to their son-in-law’s house.
His kind new wife
invited them with her family,
but it didn’t seem right.
And this was the very
brightest place – it
looked like a star
when they drove down
the highway,
and they knew there would be
children here.

A divorced Dad with
Budweiser on a black T-shirt
jokes with his
six year old daughter
over milk shakes.
A clumsily wrapped present
perches on the
molded plastic seat.
He is trying to make
the very best treat he can
of their Christmas hour
before bringing her
back to her Mom’s house.
Brown eyes shine at him
and he thinks
she is excited for later –
for Santa and all –
but she’s looking at him
all over
memorizing the gift.

The preacher
is on her way to church
to remember Bethlehem
out loud
for the folks who come
to break bread and
light little candles
with paper circles on them
that keep the wax
from dripping on their hands
as they sing “silent night.”

Most of them
have heard the story
about the child before,canstock16219611
and so has she.
She has come here first,
just to sit for a while
and watch the
christmas eve communion.

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Isaiah 40 for World AIDS Day, 2016

Comfort, O comfort my peopleimage-for-world-aids-day
who are HIV positive
speak tenderly
to those who live with AIDS
and say that the work of healing
is not for one day,
and is not bound by gender, age,
race, class, drug-use status,
orientation, country.

Let all of our voices cry out –
prepare the self-testing
the World Health Organization offers
in every wilderness,
especially where it is still illegal,
and make straight the path to
antiretroviral therapy,
without taking the money
from prevention.

For every teenager and elder,
every transgender person
and receiver of transfusions,
every sex worker
and person in the criminal justice system
shall have comprehensive access,
and every orphan and partner
experience love,
the uneven ground of bigotry and fear
and the tectonic failures
of governments and faiths
shall become level
throughout all the world –

and leadership and commitment
shall have an impact
that is plain to everyone –
research plain, education plain,
financial support plain.

For the hope of God’s children
shall be an advent 
of wellness in pandemic,
and all people shall see it together.

* The theme for 2016 is Leadership, Commitment and Impact

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“My theme for Advent this year is … listen”

Arlene Drennan of Iowa wrote to me and said this — “My theme for Advent this year is … listen” Read below her opening words which can be shared by a single voice, by two voices (each starting with alternating “listens” or responsively with a congregation. mexicojoel-eli-padron

Simultaneously on the Red Create website, there was an invitation to “look” from Joel Eli Padron Ibanez of Mexico … particularly to see Advent wreaths anew.  “Una idea para armar una corono de Adviento. Hay muchas comunidades de fe que tienen esta tradición y es bueno conocer las alternativas que hay, ideas nuevas y originales.” Here is the wreath from his church.

Together then — listen and look.

As the soldier’s voice peals through the village
Return to your father’s city. You must be counted
As Jesus shares the news with Mary
And gentleness surrounds his voice
As Mary’s mother holds her sobs and
Tells Mary where to find a midwife
As Joseph hugs his father and they
Exchange words of courage and concern
As Mary is gently raised to the blanket on the donkey
And Joseph nudges the animal to begin an epic journey
As the small caravan shuffles in the ancient soil
As they men share stories and the women share concerns
As the group enters the city
And the newlyweds are left, overwhelmed, and soon to be parents
As Joseph pleads with inn keepers for a space
As Mary holds her belly and says, “Soon little one, soon.”
As Mary’s voice changes to groaning
As she births the King of the World
As Joseph sobs and the animals exhale in relief
As joy fills Mary’s tears and her heart locks this moment away
As the shepherds and the angels sing of the birth
As the infant king begins his rule
To the breath of life
That saved the world

venezuelaAn advent calendar from Venezuela submitted by Obed Juan Vizcaíno Nájera.


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Advent gifts, from Aoteraroa

I begin Advent with gifts from Aotearoa – two of Heather Kelly’s Advent poems from Aotearoa and a photograph of the springtime there sent to me by Richard and Margaret Clayton.

Consider the Sparrow

Consider the sparrow, naked at birth;
not unlike the baby who was wrapped in rags.

Consider the sparrow – its small, compact body,
not unlike the body of a baby child.

Consider the sparrow, vulnerable to predators;
much the same as a baby was vulnerable to those who sought to kill him.

Consider the sparrow, we are told that each one is precious to God,
just as we – each one – are precious to God.

Consider the sparrow, eternally hopeful in its search for food;
a reminder that a baby was born to give us eternal hope!

Cherry Blossom

Cherry Blossom

Pondering Christmas

The consumerism begins in October,
increasingly rushed, harassed people – retail assistants and purchasers alike.
Unrelenting traffic, road rage.
End of year functions, parties – once the domain of children with jelly and ice cream,
now an excuse for excesses – food and drugs of choice.

What is the reason for this craziness?
It is a Christian festival; but where is God?

God is love.
Love is the reason.

Love is patient, Love is kind, Love is simple.
Christmas with patience, kindness, simplicity.
Now there’s a thought – radical!

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Improv on Charles Dickens … Advent was dead to begin with …

1933 British children's book. Public domain.

1933 British children’s book. Public domain.

Rarely do I even think to post humor … but this Advent my own contributions to the blog will be my playing with gifts, old and new, that have been given to me by the rich heritage of story, carol and poem. 

Improv on Charles Dickens’ “A Christmas Carol – Chapter 1

Advent was dead: to begin with. There is no doubt whatsoever about that. The register of his funeral was signed by the mall, the television, the fair guild, Santa Claus and the chief mourner. Christmas signed it; and Christmas was good for anything she choose to put a bow to. Old Advent was dead as a snuffed wick.

Mind! I don’t mean to say that I know, of my own knowledge what there is particularly dead about a snuffed wick. I might have been inclined myself to regard a burnt-out string of Christmas tree bulbs as the deadest light in the darkness, but solstice is a time of tradition and I won’t disturb it, but only repeat emphatically, that Advent was dead as a snuffed wick.

Christmas never printed out old Advent’s name. There it stood on the calendar of December. Advent and Christmas. Sometimes people new to the business called Christmas — Christmas — and sometimes Advent, but she answered to both names.

Oh, but she was a frantic hand at the seasonals – Christmas — a buying, baking, decorating, partying, card-writing old sinner she was. Busy and busy a holiday from which peace on earth never struck a moment of rest. External heat and cold had little influence on Christmas. No Florida sunshine could take the expanding tree from her Nutcracker or Maine Nor-easter cancel a Yankee Swap. The heaviest mail and travel, obligations and musical occasions could boast over Christmas in only one respect – they often ended with a sigh of contentment and Christmas rarely did.

Christmas took her eggnog and cookies in a melancholy way that night. She lived in a nave which had once belonged to her deceased partner and it was dark when she arrived home. It is a fact, that there was nothing at all particular about the wreath on the door except that it was very large and so let anyone explain to me how it happened that Christmas, having her key in the door, saw on the door an Advent wreath – not pine cones and artificial snow but candles — four purple and one pink, yes, indeed.

“Humbug,” said Christmas and walked across the room. A sound of silver bells filled her with inexplicable dread but they were succeeded by a banging noise as if someone were dragging a heavy bag of boxes across the roof, down the chimney, up the stairs and then straight towards her very room.

“It’s humbug still – I won’t believe it. Her color changed though, when, without a pause, something came through the heavy door and passed into the very room.

“I know you – you’re Advent’s ghost.”

The same four candles — the purple and the pink, the same tinsel, the same red illuminated nose, the same chestnuts smoldering a hole in the pockets, a Santa hat, a shepherds crook and an iPOD hanging out of one come-thou-Dayspring-come-and-cheer-ear and holding in his hands the same minor key – it was undoubtedly Advent.

“What do you want with me?”

“You don’t believe in me.”

“I don’t. I do. I don’t. You may be a bit of undigested Isaiah, an alarm of Romans 13, a fragment of underdone Thessalonians. There’s more of pose than posada to you!”

At this the spirit raised a frightful cry and rattled the credit cards that were encircling its arms and legs. Christmas held on to her chair to save herself from falling into a debt faint.

“Mercy, dreadful Pageant, why do liturgical seasons walk the earth and why do they come to me?”

“In my lifetime I was jealous with the story. I did all these things with wait, wait, wait and so they were filled in by normal folks with ‘traditional’ foods and gift-buying, office parties, candy canes, ‘Bad Santa,’ and even the Grinch. It was my pride and joy to never put the baby in the crèche until the last moment – long after the presents were under the tree. I never had carols in my life time and now I’m cursed to wander the earth listening to ‘Grandma’s been Run Over by a Reindeer’ and ‘Alvin the Chipmunk’ over and over again for my penance. I long to hear the real story of the Maccabees and the oil that would never run out and all I get is ‘Dreidel, Dreidel, Dreidel’ and Adam Sandler.”

“Oh, no!”

“I am here to warn you,” Advent said.

“Yule always were a good friend, “ Christmas replied.

“You’ll be haunted by Three Carols.”

“Advent,” said Christmas in a piteous tone, “I think I’d rather not.”

“Without their visits, you cannot hope to shun the path I tread.”

“Couldn’t I take them all at once, on Christmas Eve and have it over, Advent, so I don’t have to think about them?”

“Expect the first November 27, the next, December 4, and one on December 11. Listen to them well. Look to see me no more but remember what I’ve said.”

At this the air filled with phantom clarences flittering hither and thither as if looking for a bridge from which to throw themselves – every one had credit card stoles and crinkly icicle-lights like Advent. The misery with them all was that clearly they sought to interfere for Bethlehem in some church service where lonely hopeful men, women and children sit and they had re-run the power forever.

Christmas closed the window and examined the door by which Advent had entered. She tried to say, “Humbug,” but it came out “O Holy Night.”

“I’ll have to buy a tree tomorrow,” she said. “Hanging the Greens will make me feel so much better.” Despairing, she went straight to bed and fell asleep upon the instant.

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Gratitude in Action

It is wonderful to re-post on this Thanksgiving Day in the United States my friend Penny Stokes wonderful post from her blog Life Beyond Books

Life Beyond Books

img_0396This is Thanksgiving week. Our favorite holiday. On Thursday afternoon, my partner Pam and I will gather with friends who have become family for us–expats, Ecuadorians, people from all over the globe. We’ll share a meal, a bit of wine, and probably a lot of laughter. We’ll marvel over the miraculous “coincidences” that have brought us together from half a world apart. We’ll undoubtedly talk about things we’re thankful for. And the opportunity to live in Ecuador will be high on that list.

Since we moved to South America a little over a year ago, Pam and I have experienced things we never would have known in the States.

We’ve learned, for example, that even though mañana literally means “tomorrow,” what it really means is, “Not today.” We’ve learned to be patient waiting in line. We’ve learned that gringo is not a derogatory word, at least not in Ecuador. We’ve…

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Thanksgiving Inventory, 2016

I am thankful the people missingStockbridge
from my Thanksgiving table
were people I loved —
not everyone has
my lucky, lucky tears.

I am thankful for a country
where the least likable person
could be elected president,
but that many of us are not afraid
to protest his threats
against those
who must be very afraid.

I am thankful for my alcoholism
giving birth to a recovery
that blesses me
with empathy,
a few tools to help others,
also a small liquor store bill.

I am thankful that my dogs
are rescued,
my books are second-hand,
my singing makes people laugh,
and Leonard Cohen sang
about the broken Hallelujahs
I’ve known all my life.

I am thankful that my death
is closer than my birth,
so I have a deep reservoir
of tender memories,
but, if I lose them, like my parents did,
there are people who will try
every day to make my life sweet —
family and friends,
and some gentle paid people,
so even my neediness
helps somebody make a living.

I am thankful for prayer,
the many faces and names of God
around the world,
the Spirit that prays me like a fiddle
or a child’s game in the sand –

when the tide comes in
and even my thankful is quiet.

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