On the first day of Christmas, all the children are home,
Conquering the transfigured backyards that echo with their voices.
They raise up forts, and lie down into angel prints, and the snow
Packs between their mittens and the knitted cuffs of their coats.
Gradually they tumble indoors, as the shadows grow long,
Toward gingerbread and the brightness of the living-room lamps.
Snowflakes fall silently, softly, under the golden lamps
Of the railway station full of college girls going home
For Christmas. They are yet girls, yet becoming women, with long
Smooth hair, and matched luggage, and adult voices.
The night sky dark against the tweed of their coats,
And the tracks of heeled boots in the still-white snow.
The winter sun rises cold over the stillness of the snow,
And its pale, hazy light fades out the last tiny lamps
Of the year's longest night. Branches in puffy white coats
Stand guard around secret nests until the birds return home.
Yet the cardinals remain, for the scarlet splash of their voices
Rouses me from my snowy dreams all winter long.
The carolers come upon the next house, give the wreathed door a long
And spirited knock. An old man and his wife are surprised; snow
Has reddened the cheeks of this choir, and their lively voices
Flood the room with more light than the antique table lamps.
Then, as suddenly as they appeared, they leave the tiny home,
Still pulling on hats and buttoning up heavy winter coats.
Mother and Daddy's bed is nearly lost under the pile of coats.
The adults gather in the warm kitchen, exclaiming how long
Since they have all been together; how good to be home.
The floor of the cheerful front hall is slick with melting snow,
And the littler cousins and the dog knock over one of the lamps,
And the house is filled with lights and joy and gay voices.
Midnight. Distant cathedral bells sound their sonorous voices
Over the town: Noël, Noël. The air is crisp, like the blanket that coats
The sleeping earth. The only ones wakeful are the street lamps
And myself, and I am turning back now, walking down the long,
Hushed street. There comes a reverent peace from standing in the snow,
In the crystal nightbut holier things still are waiting at home.
I dine out under neon lampsMerry Xmas. Painfully I long
For my family's voices, even for the damp smell of woolen coats.
Here they know nothing of snow gently falling, and I wish I were home.
September 19, 1989