Gifting: Ten for Today

A day of gift giving, my family gathered to celebrate the holidays early. As usual, I was the master distributor of the 75-odd gifts (or more) to the anticipating gift-ees. The small children lent a hand.
 
My two adult children (or near) stared into their phones but were grateful and gracious, for the most part. They liked what I surprised them with this year–Totoro themed shirts and tiny ceramic hedgehog planters from the gift store at the Japanese market–the small gifts as appetizers to the main dish, the blue and white wrapped cash wad.
 
Some years I’m not as successful. I’m not good at giving or receiving gifts. I mean, I’m thankful in just the right degree, I’m sure, when given presents. But gifts trigger slight anxiety in me, a discomfort with the offering. 


First, I don’t want for anything, and especially material things. Second, the offeror anticipates my response. All givers want to know they chose well, or already know they haven’t but hope to be surprised, or just want to get past the whole ordeal.
 
It’s excruciating the subtle yet deeply cutting undertones, nuances and inflections inherent in gift exchanges. Always lurking behind the handing over is “Will he/she like it?” And the risk is “No, he/she has that overly thankful, forced corners way up smile with nothing behind the eyes.” Nope. Rejection.
 
Honestly, the best gifts I’ve ever received, I can’t even remember. My husband gifted me lovely, thoughtful treasures through the years, from fashion wear to Shiraz to diamonds, but my most treasured gifts were bestowed upon me un-offered.
 
I inherited a good sense of humor, and so many people happenstance’d into my days with a laugh and an irony for smirks. My mother’s logophilia seeped into my bones too, and I can’t measure that reward, that unearned prize.
 
I have long legs and patience, capacious passion and anger, boundless love and delicate touch, all ignited at the thrust of that last push and first inhale–at birth. My DNA, what a gift! And those who’ve spent their time with me, enjoyed my story, shit on me, broke my heart, and prayed for me, all presents: bow-less, ribbon-less and priceless clay-of-me potters.
 
I remember those gifts by name.

  

Surrendering to the Holidays

  
“Pass the salt, please.” 

I look up at her from my veggie quesadilla plate, my eyes suggesting an answer to the question in my expression, but her face shows no comprehension. She wears sunglasses inside the restaurant.

I pass the salt.

Two shakes and she sets the shaker aside to pick at fake cheese melted over corn tortilla chips. Biting the triangle tip of a chip, she glances up–I think–at me, my head recently returned to face her after scooping up random bits of salsa to topple over one of the soft triangles targeted to dissect and devour. 

“When do you think you’ll know? I mean going back.” I ask but already know the answer. How can she know?

“I don’t know. You’re asking me something I can’t possibly know. I mean I could recover next week or continue on like this forever or get hit by a bus as soon as we walk out this door.” She waves to some indeterminate place beyond the restaurant walls. 

I know what she means. The asking leaps over logic into faith like a ghost limb needing to be scratched. Nothing there but habit and the act of speaking.

The gap of knowing and being spans eons now. We both know it, and yet we dance this ancient witless dance of caretaker and charge. It’s my job to ask the unanswerable questions and hers to stem the flow of fear with uncertainly, freeing and terrifying, reminding us both to surrender and enjoy lunch.

“Can we have a peaceful family Christmas dinner and forget for a few moments? Will we?” I ask uncertain of her answer, the truth of her answer. I fight the terrible urge to cough.

“Before the bus hits? Sure. Might as well.” She laughs, picking up the salt to shake it once more.  
Merry, Merry, Merry to one and all!

I do not love the holidays

  

 

I am not going to say I hate the holidays because that would admit to a greater investment in the whole sketchy affair of good cheer and “gratitude” the holidays purportedly promote. I do prize genuine good cheer and gratitude, but enforced holiday spirit not so much.

It is common to hear this complaint–about the obligatory holiday gift buying and cookie baking and niceties that go with. Just look how thrilled most people look in the overcrowded parking lots to impossibly busy malls, stores and roadways. And yes, that seasonal depression thing is real.

Fortunately, I do not get depressed so much as annoyed, fatigued, exasperated and grumpy. And it is much better now that I have grown old and beaten up enough to have far fewer fucks to give (so happy for that current expression). My stress over getting everything done–shopping, baking, wrapping, shopping, cooking, tree-decorating, candle lighting, card-writing (yeah, who am I kidding there?), and shopping–is half of what it used to be when the kids were younger and I had more fuel to burn. 

But there is still a lot of shit to do, much more than should be done in a two-week period, one of very few, during which the nation slows down to celebrate and appreciate the goodness of life granted us by a benevolent God or universe or both. We get an entire day off–all together.

But I do not need to mention the obvious–that the consumerist hypocrisy of the holidays exhausts a very noble idea, one of good will and graciousness toward other human beings. The lost message is as much of a  shame as the squandered opportunity to wind down and rest, lost to self-induced comatose gift buying and giving many of us can neither afford nor truly relish for the sacrifice of sanity the activity steals.

I am neither a shopper nor a craft maker. Though I am a gracious gift receiver, I want for nothing that can be bought in a store or online. I am a lousy gift buyer, no imagination for it. And perhaps the traditions I have grown up with and created are far too consumer-centric. 

I regret not changing the habit in my children, who I did enjoy baking cookies for and eventually with, as well as decorating trees and lighting menorah candles, when those activities were as wondrous as the gifts wrapped in expectation. Then the holidays eked out some cheer, some joy and love, despite the heightened stress of teachers’ gifts and Christmas cards and too many gifts purchased with too little money spent in far too distant and varied places among the too stressed and sick throngs.

So, as I sit here in a momentarily near vacant store two days before Christmas Eve, watching the rain, thinking about the gifts I still have to buy (have not started actually) and the dinner I have to cook in a couple of days that I have not planned yet, and the entertaining I have to do the following day and the day after, I audibly sigh the sound drowned out by the “Happy holidays!” a customer chirps as he walks out the door. Ugh! 

I truly want everyone around me near and far, known and unknown, to have a happy holiday and new year, to find peace and love and happiness, but I just have to figure out another way to express it.

 

Social Anxiety

  

At the people’s fair, the poets and priests applauded,

amid moon beams, day flowers and drifting bubbles,

they chanted om-ish dreams in wiling away the hours.

For days on days, the fleet of foot and spare of change

smoked sense into surreal, eating praise and crackers

like Jamesian daisies and a Dapper dangling a cheroot.

There were criers, circus barkers among lap dogs afoot

staring down cookie crumbs, brie chunks on sooty floor.

Festive and feast-ive, the colors and chaos crept edgily,

spun the words from the loudspeaker on love, language,

power, God, emptiness, blunting, alienation and forgive

me if I recollect badly for such forceful good cheer stung

my fear-filled hidden face, feted, feeling the drafty ales

culled by court jesters and juggling clowns reciting lines,

preached poetry and rhyming prayers to a cloying crowd.

And the arms reached me, slung their shawl-like shroud

over me who did not remember how she came here to be

fair of people, puppets, poets, perfume, priests and pot

when then I recalled a choice collected as entry gate fee:

Lithely spin inside the tales of others’ telling or turn tail.  

So, in a booted click-thud pivot, I chanced the lone trail

beyond fenced cloudy star-lit trees blinking cheer-ishly

and down the hill atop which the cacaphony decrescendo

subsided wide for miles stretched into the nomadic night. 

Letter from a Former Mistress to Her Former Lover

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Credit: 3.bp.blogspot.com

Dear Wayne:

You have been the ghost of the week, haunting my harried holiday mad dashes and work hour drags. As long as you are hovering above my day, I want to ask you something. Though I’m sure you have so much on your mind these days with the busy-ness of work and family, I’m curious to know if you sometimes think of me. Somehow I know you do. Although so much time, over twenty years, has passed since we were lovers, I wonder which of our moments you remember most.

I apologize if that makes you feel awkward or is inappropriate to even ask. The holidays do this to me, get me maudlin and reflective. Do you remember that about me? So much to do and so much forced cheer and obligatory reflection, it’s like being dragged to church or synagogue as a kid–an empty burdensome rote task. We’d all much rather be out playing with our friends. But I must continue the crusade, braving mazy parking lots and frenzied shopping herds synced to the mind-numbing messages of good cheer, reverential-looking reflection and commercially-convincing gratitude encoded in the music piped into my brain in every shopping mall. There is no respite from the prescribed mood of the season.

In my brainwashed holiday cheer, I am picking through the dollar section of Target trolling for knick knacks for the little ones on my gift list today. Dutifully feeling grateful for those cute little great nephews and nieces of mine, I flash on a memory of the time you and I were Christmas shopping for Jenny, who was 8 then. You held up those Mary Janes covered in ruby red glitter and recited verbatim the entire monologue of the Wicked Witch of the West flitting and flapping above her crystal ball calling upon her minions to capture Dorothy and Toto. You spoke those lines with pitch perfect voice, accent and gesture, imitating every eyebrow lift and evil sneer emblazoned on the 35 mm film cells and in the memories of everyone who watched the Wizard of Oz from childhood to their children’s childhood. I laughed so hard I cried. You remember?

Your total recall of movie lines was astounding. But I could never figure out how you could screw up song lyrics, except to make singing the lines as misheard malaprops another way to get me to laugh…Doing Gypsy, “Let me just disdain you…let me make you smile…” I was more amused at your thinking you were funny than at some of the lines you tortured.

That’s what came to me. I flashed on the glint in your eyes first, the impish grin and twinkle when you had just made a funny. Probably the most prominent feature of yours etched in my memory is that smile in your eyes, proud and amused by your clever comedy. I smile inwardly (and sometimes outwardly) the most about our laughing together.

That’s the way it started. You passed that note to me in class with a cartoon drawing of a shark with a bubble above its head repeating what the professor just said about mechanics liens or subpoenas. I don’t recall the subject now, but I remember suppressing laughter not so much for the joke but for the silliness of the act itself. We were both close to or over thirty then.

You knocked me off my throne then, from the sequestration of the fearful, from proud disdain for team sports, polyester laden high school football coaches, silly songs and Republicans. I was so serious, trying so hard to be someone, while you were comfortable in your skin, your brown skin and black hair and thick lips. I never thought I would find myself in half lit rooms with thread-bare hotel sheets enwrapped in you. But I was, and it was wild and breathy and loud and sweaty sweet, your voice a soft baritone lullaby as we counted the stars imagined through the stained motel ceiling afterwards. Do you remember asking me if I could live the rest of my days like this?

Christmas gifts were a problem. You could give them to me, but I could not give them to you because they would need a convincing story of their giving. Not even chocolate bars or key chains. And I didn’t want you to give me gifts unreciprocated, felt it was not in the holiday spirit. Besides, we had to wish each other love and warmth and a Merry Christmas through a long, loving embrace in a car or in a park on the 23rd or the 27th, because the 25th was spent with silent cheers and clinking of glasses to your health for the year past and ahead while I smiled into the face of someone who was not you and while you blessed your family with your laughter and the glint in your eye that made someone who was not me smile.

Jenny is 35 now and I am buying Chanukah presents for her two little ones. You are not here with me in Target in the flesh, just as you were not with me on those six Christmases, Chanukahs, New Years, Thanksgivings, Easters, Presidents Days, Valentines Days and our birthdays. It wasn’t you who gently placed a hand on my shoulder as I lay in bed face down in my pillow in convulsed sobs the day my mother fell ill. And it wasn’t you who ran into the street with the blue tipped pee stick to shout in child-like delirious excitement to your brother at the corner that a baby was going to be born in February.

No, you’re here as you were with me so much of those years of our time: in my grin when I would hear a movie line of one of the many movies you could recite scenes from and insert into most any conversation or in the salt of my sweat when I awakened from a dream of our last love making session so real that I turned to search for your face peering into mine from the shadow on the pillow next to me. I found you in the ache of song and the edgy wonder of what it was like to have a family who needed you home, present in body and mind and not distractedly longing to be elsewhere.

Your image is ghostly now because the love that infused our veins in the thickness of syrupy desire and amnesiac release is frigidly lost to the lives of Christmases and school days past. I loved you hard as you did me. Only the threads remain of that blanket we wrapped ourselves in to keep us warm and alive, to survive the blizzard that trapped us and threatened our lives like the anger of banging heads bloody on the filthy cement walls of the prison, desperate with no way out. But we are alive and free to remember how it was.

I conjure you up today as if you were flesh and blood. I know you’re smiling too when my ghost appears. And sometimes, I know once in a while, we smile at the same exact time over the same silly note or line playing on the radio or overheard in passing conversation between friends or lovers at a cafe.

Peace and Love–

Nephilitic Silence: Holidays for the Mistress

credit: fc08.deviantart.net

Your silence pools
in my intestines
and threatens
to spew plasmatic entrails
but stops short,
stifled in my breath
and trapped in my gullet
like a knob of malignant obstruction
to my peace and extensive stretch.

Silent days are death
to a long distance relationship,
not one spanning miles but minds;
silence severs
conjoint knowledge
wringing smiles
from the depths
of pelvic gurgling
and ancient arrows
of cherubim, plump
with the secrets
of gazing mouthful men
and averting ample mammarian women.

An image licks my museful morning
like my mistress’ tongue
languid and fierce
of aural treasures
buried long
and seafaring leagues
away in a land of the forbidden.

As if the nephilim are still among us
in their gigantesque
voracity and violence,
appetites that angrily expressed
devoured all they loved
and hated and nourished,
banning them
from all they desired
by an uneven hand
stronger than their own.

God’s winged visitations
consummated my hunger
with destiny’s dread desire too.
Only the silence of sleep
and death beget
not fated giants
but the stillborn genesis
of potentates with stone silhouettes
that speak nothing
of tremulous beating beings.

Your silence is like the path
obscured by shadows
of the overgrowth at dusk
pixilated with the sediment
of floating spins of detritus bits
lost from flesh-torn inhabitants.

Speak my name
and make manifest
confirmed minds
in trust
where memory’s remains.