Cole and his commotions pierce your scalp. As you turn on your side, ancient Indian arrowheads. Hot water filling ears, tub, and the one one-room tenement flat steam, a rusting locomotive engine breeze. Battling ice for window space, melting into cracked wood finish, Finished, you imagine, by blonde-on-blonde Scandinavian immigrants. Clear as winter ice. Performing now on your left, just behind the rotting sofa, is the radiator. Spitting, bleating, and dripping as you hover over it like a saint. "What child is this who laid to rest on Mary's lap is sleeping..."
Christmas, 1963: Man, she had tinsel on her brain. Waiting outside in a peacoat for her grandparents to arrive. In a one-horse open sleigh, or was it a Pontiac? Yeah, must'a been a Pontiac 'cause it didn't snow that Christmas. Matter of fact, it hardly ever snowed in Tucson.
Just another morning. The details of your insanity. The soundtrack of a waking city bangs upon your windowpane. A fine mist now covers the room as sweatshirt and panties drop to the chewed-puke green rug. "Whom angels greet with anthems sweet while shepherds watch are keeping ..."
Christmas, 1967: The family room was a switchboard yard. Southern Pacific train set careening down the tracks. The dog his under the bed while the cat made frequent attacks on the orange boxcars. Grandfather sunk in Nostalgia. Reminder of his years spent slaving for the railroads. He almost smiled and would call her by her Christian name. Those were gifts that could never be bought.
A finger, a foot, and finally your entire body disintegrates into rising waters form. Slow, deep breath. Your skin, white as bone, immersed in the flood. Nipples, buttocks, freckles, and pubic mound. Laid to rest in moors and in the briars. Caressing yourself. Still alive at 25. So fluid and warm. Molds, animal fat, and fragrance No. 5. Oceanic sleeping in a ceramic pot. "So bring him incense, gold and myrrh; come rich and poor to own him..."
Christmas, 1969: Rich aromas of baking and falter's pipe tobacco filled the kitchen. Her mother spun Crosby and Como. Grandparents watched kids unravel gifts like spools of thread. BB guns and baseball mitts for her brothers. A huge box marked "North Pole" sat off in the corner. The one with three separate booklets of directions in hieroglyphics. Took five sets of batteries, not included, and seemed to possess a mind of its own. Took a class-four operator's license to start, and could only be used under adult supervision. Which was OK because Dad was the only one who would ever play with it from that day forward. It whirred, sputtered, and then ignited before exploding into a thousand pieces, encasing the entire area in a haze of blue smoke and sea of lights.
You force yourself out of the tub and dry off next to the oven. Cracking paint and peeling last shreds of wallpaper. Ships and lighthouse give way to unforgiving white walls. You shrug, light a cigarette, and dress quickly. Dress warmly and wonder in mom would approve. The salt thrown on the streets has eaten away at your cowboy boots. But you put them on just the same and swear they've shrunk another inch. "The king of kings salvation brings; let loving hearts enthrone him ..."
Christmas, 1971: The odor of candle wax like an unsettled stomach. A statue on the pew. She sat still and alone as stone. Watching imagined snowflakes drift about the beautiful wooden church. Her grandmother blanketed in a huge white quilt. She thought about magic and how at midnight the animals would talk.
You glance in the mirror and slowly a face takes place. Put on water for morning's coffee and another smoke. You lose yourself for a moment in reflections. The midnights spent at the uptown bar and the Seventh Street entry, and finally to last Tuesday, and of the player you took home. So pretty, throw a lock on the door, and descend the dirty staircase leading down and out into another wasted day. "This, this is Christ the king, whom shepherds guard and angels sing.."
Christmas, 1973: Every Christmas day once upon a time. All her relatives gathered at the old house. Women damp with perfume and men with bourbon's breath. Children. Sweet guarantors of one more year's prosperity. Dinner was served complete with each family's endless crusades and picket signs. She called it carving through Cambodia. Secretly, she fed scraps of turkey and pumpkin pie to her dog under the table. After the meal she surprised everyone by sneaking off behind the Christmas tree, quietly sobbing as the light slowly drained from the sky.
"Haste, haste to bring laud, the babe the son of Mary..."
The day slips like a snake onto your shadowed soul. Wind freezing down and the snow tastes of tin. Plodding through top layers of last night's drop. You are surrounded by grey-green buildings where no one seems to live. Veering to the right off Ninth Street, you skid and slide down Hennepin like a bobsled, leaving rails of blacktop exposed. You need someone with a memory. Manholes exhale brown sweat steam, creating layers of colored bulbs blinking and flashing through the mist. A drag queen in red leotards brushes up against you, wishing you a Merry Christmas. The area is run down and you think to yourself that Santa Claus better have a machine gun.
A police car is stopped in the middle of the street outside the pool hall. You shake your hips and pretend not to notice their leering smiles and beady blue eyes. It's starting to snow again as you continue south towards the bridge. Face red and chapped, you peer through eyes that take in each leafless branch bent with snow. An empty car lot is covered with pure, clean, glistening white powder. You pass shops and topless bars where sound pours into the streets from God's ghetto blaster... "Have a Kung-Fu Christmas." The horizon fills with steeples and smokestacks, while the ornaments of nature charge each moment and provide crisp silence. Crowds sway and fall away into snowbanks which hold the face of this earth with frozen discipline. The river is breathing smoke, and you hardly notice an Indian glaciated on a stoop, lips pursed to a bottle of wine. You fight to light up a last wet cig-arette. A different kind of poverty. The wind knifes along the bridge as you step onto it. Beneath you runs the great Mississippi, brown and flowing with chunks of ice and sludge, deep and tranquil... You should have called your parents to let them know their daughter won't be home for Christmas, but you feel so disconnected. All around you the twilight ignites and the entire world is rimmed with frost...