The House at Christmas

"Getting the Christmas Tree" by Jenny Nyström. Courtesy of Flickr/Irina.

Its wide dark eyes–
the picture windows of a 60s bungalow –
reflect rooms in black lakes
cold and mirrored as though slick
with tears and ice.

Early, before the day dies,
stark skies will light them,
black trees against the yellows
and a fierce fire sunken
beyond the mountains.

Inside
     lamps blind and still the fear.

 

This is a house full of secrets and surprises.
One year my father rises in the dawn to assemble
a green wrought-iron swing
he somehow dug into frozen ground
so that we’d find it in the morning
poised and ready.

The tree goes in the sitting room where
the piano is.  All sound softened
by thick carpet under our feet,
red velvet deep in the piano’s workings,
green felt around the record player’s lid.
The needle dropping into a groove
whispers.

The piano is a Bechstein
bought with his first earnings as a young teacher
its ebony frame scandalously shaved
to fit an alcove and on it
a book of carols for children
ordered all the way from Boosey and Hawkes
in London with inked illustrations
in Christmas reds and greens
from which I’ll learn to play

We three kings of Orient are
Bearing gifts we traverse afar
Moor and mountain, field and fountain
Following yonder star

and the moors, mountains and stars
become those we see from our windows.

The coloured lights of the tree reflect
the eyes of other houses across the river
and in the slats of glass in the china cabinet
the tree is mirrored in an infinite parade of colour
that we wait for every year and love.

All the rest of the year we know
this secret of light is there
and the room seems to hold
the smell of the tree.

On Christmas Eve, my father disappears
on a mission to the village at odd hours,
with parcels or bottles of mineral
and we somehow know
not to ask where he goes.

There is only one warm room
where everyone gathers to watch
the Two Ronnies or Morecombe and Wise
and I like to drift
into the empty cold of other rooms,
that seem more beautiful than usual,
poised still and silent,
like sets for dramas yet to come,
refreshing after the artificial heat
the clarity of their cold a place to think
of new beginnings but with life
noisy and warm nearby.

 

And now
when I think of my father at Christmas
the time of year he loved
I imagine him wandering
such stilled cold rooms
while we, the living, laugh so near.

Maureen Boyle is a teacher and writer who lives in Belfast, Northern Ireland. Her full collection The Work of a Winter was published in 2018 and a single poem 'Strabane' in 2020, both by Arlen House, Dublin.

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