Taking Down the Tree

On January 5th, everyone in the house
gone, I wrap the glass balls in pieces
of old socks as my mother taught me.
The tiny wooden chair, a private symbol
of grief, goes in the carton near Patrick’s
glass cat and the red metal trikes and sleds
get parked in the last compartment.
When I unwrap the strands of lights,
spiraling like memories, I wind them
in neat wreaths, as my father taught me,
return them to their cellophane packs.
This tree was dead before its time.
The tiny knives slide under my nails,
attack my palms. I try to be gentle
with brittle branches, not snapping them
as I unclip the lamps, though I know
they are destined for mulch and flame.
From the tape deck, voices
of the Cincinnati Women’s Choir,
“Music in my Mother’s House,” fill the room.
I glance out the window at the new wind chimes,
green with tinsel stripes like candy canes,
frantic in the chaotic weather.
What did it sound like before this gift?
I wonder, and think how they take me back
to something I can’t name, some place
where small, delicate chambers bump together
in lost time, aiming peculiar notes
my way. “O Tannebaum, O Tannebaum,”
the chimes sing out. I see the choir,
a forest of voices in their green robes,
notes exploding among them
like colored lights.

(Anita Skeen is a professor of English at MSU. This peom appears in “There’s No Place Like Home for the Holidays,” Paper Mache Press, 1997. Beginning Jan. 9, Skeen will write a monthly column on poetry for City Pulse.)







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