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On the fifth day of Christmas I’d hoped I might see a pile of brand new poetry.

I hold this tradition, perhaps now festered into an obsession, that I spend Christmas Eve afternoon into Christmas Day dawn writing poems, creating what I’ve grown to call my annual Christmas Cycle. This year was no different. I began by collecting a few seasonal images that might prove inspiring and, as usual, by fussing a lot.

One year I wrote eight or ten original poems, each with the same image: a young girl catching a snowflake on her tongue. Other years, I’ve plumbed the Library of Congress’ image library for vintage 40s and 50s pics. I send the results to family and very close friends in lieu of boughten gifts.

I ask Santa for the same thing every year: nothing. I’ve grown ginky about the whole purchased gift routine and almost pride myself at not playing that game, but some game must be played, it seems. Whether that game involves midnight runs to WalMart or to the depths of ones soul might make little difference. Even this crusty deadline poet might feel the panic of not having properly gifted come Christmas morning. Some early Christmas mornings get crazy around here.

I am almost always delighted with what the elves leave on those blank pages over that long night. I am not so confident with the result this year. The poems more or less write themselves, so I might not be able to credibly claim authorship. As Jule Stein noted, the title defines the architecture of a lyric, and my poems prove no different. Though I’ve been for a half century writing poems, most might be better described as lyrics, for I’m really writing songs; rhythmic pieces absent melodies at inception. A few over the years have evolved into actual songs, but at first they are nothing but title supported by what seems an inevitable rhythm punctuated with words.

Most poets will confide that meaning emerges. They do not design meaning but structure, filling words into the blank spaces crossword-like, except the clues are rhythmic cues. Starting wherever—the starting point doesn’t really matter since I can always start again if the resulting extrusion peters out—I look around me searching for a matching sound, trying to ground the meter. I cheat some until the emerging beat starts humming on its own, then it’s basically a follow-it-home kind of effort, like improvisational jazz. The structure can be quite formal, and I personally dislike arrhythmic poetry and atonal jazz.

The first step terrifies me. Every personal shortcoming prominent, success seems unlikely. I embody The Fool stepping off the cliff, never once confident I will not fall. I fall. I do not trust the rhythm to catch me. I exhibit not one ounce of faith in my or anyone’s ability. Angels catch me, I guess.

I’ve not quite worked out how this tradition mirrors The Christmas Story, and it might not. I might start each year’s work searching for a non-existent room at an inn, hoping for a sheltered place to birth my baby. Angels visit. Shepherds quake. Wise men show up several days later, certainly not on the night of the so-called blessed event. I might be embodying the human dilemma over that long, inevitably dark night. I always find ample time to encounter both my best and worst angels.

Whatever results ends up being a fairly accurate portrait of me. Though I usually try to craft each poem especially for someone special to me, this strategy doesn’t reliably result in necessarily personable poems. Some emerge angst-filled, others obviously simple-minded. I keep the distribution limited because I suspect that only those who know me pretty well could tolerate, much less even distantly appreciate them.

I might have jinxed this year’s cycle-making, since I delayed starting to go out physically shopping for an actual, physical gift. I agreed to defer a scheduled call until smack in the middle of my prime creating time, and exhausted myself with it. I slept half the night, sweating my lack of progress, laboring harder than probably necessary, mostly convinced that my wanna be had exceeded my meager abilities. Rhythm eluded me most of the night and I didn’t finish until after noon on Christmas. I am one lousy companion every Christmas, though I slept like an angel Christmas night.

Maybe that’s The Christmas Story. Humble, humbling beginnings kinda beg for mercy, depend upon angels, and perhaps even eventually elevate weary spirits.

©2013 by David A. Schmaltz - all rights reserved

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