When the Christmas tree, fresh-cut from the Custer National Forest, is hauled into my house, and when the burnt red, cast-iron tree stand from my once-married years is brought forth from the crawl space, the miniature rose bush and the cyclamen are relocated to the blue bench against my bedroom windowsill. Next to the shamrock plant. All three of which haven’t bloomed once this year. But still/even still, I water them. But not the Christmas tree. I am a little bit in mourning for the many years when I had children sleeping in my house. A lit tree summons forth too much exquisite Silent Night beauty. Holy infant so tender and mild.
My children are grown. The house has emptied, though the closets are overfilled.
You may tear apart the baby’s rattle and see what makes the noise inside, but there is a veil covering the unseen world which not the strongest man, nor even the united strength of all the strongest men that ever lived, could tear apart.
The ice-maker in the kitchen will not produce ice and it will not hush. Worse, when I play music on the CD player nearby, its groaning rhythm falters and fails to keep time. On the second day, I take a hammer to it while talking to Fishing Guy on the phone. He is convinced there is an on/off button. But no, there is not. In between hammer blows I tell him the only switch I know has a red, wooden handle. Bam bam bam.
The ice-maker stops groaning. I turn the music down.
Only faith, fancy, poetry, love, romance can push aside that curtain and view and picture the supernal beauty and glory beyond.
Not so long ago, but long ago enough, I was the passenger in a car curving north on the river road. He was the mountain to my prairie. I believed in song trees and I believed in him. The space between us was stronger than ourselves. I kept faith in mystery and he trusted in fact. The bridge to Roscoe–do you know it? One lane, aspen meadows on both sides. Just as Derby’s tires met the graveled planks I lost my capacity for him.
I’m not used to giving up. I gave in to fact.
I’m on the phone again with Fishing Guy, describing every item I am removing from the overfilled closets: Hand cuffs; a dried, exotic Hawaiian plant; one ice skate; a bread bag of unmatched orphan socks; a fire blanket, gloves and a fan. The conversation is tedious. I am tedious and he is being kind.
You care for people until they learn to care for themselves.
Fishing Guy tells me this while I am on my knees, sorting through my son’s old foot locker. Pennants, baseball cards, keys to the toy hand cuffs. And then I find the pulley I gave him the year he turned six and all his friends got Nintendo for Christmas and he got a nice length of rope. But where is it? This rope that built hammocks and pirate ships and rescued pretend mountain goats from trees in our back yard.
That’s the glory and the pain. Sherry, did you hear me? The glory and the pain.
The rope that threads through the pulley, that’s what I’m looking for, I reply. Without it I’m stuck here on my knees, filled with unlit prayers, and candles left unchanted. Men left on a bridge.
The ice-maker and the hammer blow–only a temporary cure. Within days, the ice-maker renews its discontented groan. Only after I burn my fingers on the ice-maker in my attempt to fix it do I learn Everybody knows an ice-maker produces heat. I’m still trying to wrap my poetic head around the fact a constant heat source exists inside a freezer when Fishing Guy shows up at my door. He knows about men left on bridges, he knows I get lost in closets writing poems about pulleys and ropes, and yet he still shows up to dismantle my ice-maker and cap my water line.
Somewhere, sometime, I start to tell him . . .
You want to learn to dismantle your own ice maker, he interrupts . . .
I want to learn to bezel set a stone in darkness, I continue . . .
Cap a water line? he mumbles, flashlight in his mouth.
Count rail cars of crushed carbon when I can’t see them, just by listening to the tracks. I want the magic back. He nods his head and places a bag of chopped broccoli in my hands. An unwrapped cod filet is frozen to the bag.
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Excerpts are from “Yes, Virgina, there is a Santa Claus,” published by The New York Sun in 1897.