Who Knows Where
Christmas, 1948, our tree stood preening in a corner,
like Aunt Rose.
Tinsel shimmered, aping icicles that clutched our
of electric lights in various colors bubbled from the
Here and there
a frosted figure hung, composed of dough, some house
or leaping deer.
Atop the very tip, nearly scraping the ceiling, a
toxic cloud of fiberglass
white as Santa's beard
on which a paper angel rode, her skirt a cone of
a cairn of presents, bound in ribbon or scintillant
thread. But the thing
that caught our eye,
the center of our wonder, was a bulb that gleamed
like polished lapis,
bigger than the rest,
a blue so intense it smoldered, as if it hid a depth,
some mysterious distance
in which all light
was turned back, leaving its core impenetrable,
black. Family legend
had it some ancestor,
generations back, had blown that ornament himself and
to these shores.
Passed down, it was unpacked year after year then
placed into its box
again, like the baby
Jesus in his manger, and stowed in the attic. We
with a mixture
of detachment and awe, gazed into its surface to see
ourselves reflected there,
flattened out and curved, as in a funhouse mirror.
But always at its center
We squinted, gawked, screwed our faces up to read
some meaning, some hint
of where it came from,
but it preserved its equanimity, its rooted calm. No
crystal ball, no
to the future, but a blazing opacitythe round,
blown, frail enigma of
Sunlight one Sunday afternoon, and dust
on the bumpy road through Marstson's field
which lay on the banks of the river between
the water and the hump of Indian ridge.
The three of us and Mr. Burrows, ex-GI,
who bore a stitch of scars around his middle
where bullets were machine-gunned
in. But he survived to teach us
how to drive in his converted jeep rollbarred
for the worst, in case we caromed off
through furrows bristling with desiccated corn
or slammed into boles of oaks along the river.
We cranked the clutch and yanked
the shiftstick, then bucked ahead
to swerve across a washboard of exposed roots
until we found a little turnspot at the end,
carved out of sumac, and careened around it,
hooting, terrified but happy, while he bellowed
shift it down, god damn it, shift it down!
We shredded metal, jammed the brakes
and hurtled forward, trying to coordinate our feet,
a little dance of easy-does-it, a little waltz
around a weed-choked road that led
to keep-on-going, pour-it-on-and-don't-look-back.