• Vol. 08
  • Chapter 11
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I got into bed. I said some words to the close and holy darkness, and then I slept. - Dylan Thomas, A Child’s Christmas in Wales

When the streets were still warm during the day
and pigeons toyed with me as if they might
allow me to hold their luminous cooing,
Big Millie would warn me about being a good boy.
You better behave or you know what you’ll get,
so I’d have to sneak
to the front doors of the Mount Zion Baptist Church
to listen to the Black people make music
from air and syllables
until I was lifted away into a place where
I didn't worry about good or bad.

Acorns covered the sidewalks,
dull, knotted marbles,
harbingers of cold and December
and in the apartment,
the kerosene stove huffed, knocking the chill off,
and stockings thumbtacked to the wall
waited to be filled.

Little Millie was at the big chipped white sink,
plucking feathers from a boiled chicken.
Be good or you know what you’ll get, don’t you?
A lump of coal is what you’ll get.
I’d have to sneak to DelMonico Park
to watch the old men at lean-to picnic tables,
drink wine, smoke cigars, cuss in Italian,
and play dominoes in the park with no grass,
the park covered with black stones like charcoal.



Every Christmas Little Millie would walk me
to Bushnell Park to see the big creche
where Baby Jesus lay all those gray days and nights,
wet pastel sky and treacherous uneven sidewalks
where I tripped once, broke a collar bone,
and became very cold,
Little Millie said, I told you to slow down.
But I was so excited to see Baby Jesus
that even the cold and pain couldn’t erase that delight.
Little Millie tightened the scarf around my neck and said
Let’s get you to the hospital.

Did this mean I hadn’t been good, I wondered.



There were always so many secrets, kept and broken.

Big Millie sat in the fat chair next to the television,
the allusion of a smile on her lips.

Little Mille sat on the couch that was as big as a Cadillac,
and watched me, all of my lights on,
wondering what could be making
my stocking so lumpy.

Big Millie said, Go ahead,
and excitedly I pulled my stocking down
and out bounced a small rubber ball
that rolled all the way into the dining room.

There was a bag full of socks.

There were Jacks and a small magnifying glass.

And there were wool mittens that Little Millie knitted.

Way down in the toe of my stocking
where I had to bury my whole arm to reach,
was a plump fresh orange
that made the living room smell
the way I imagined summer might smell
in some other place.

as, without even noticing,
I built my way toward heaven, one spindly branch,
one crooked leaf,
one balancing act on top of another.