With Christmas Season Hard Upon Us | Paulann Petersen


With Christmas Season Hard Upon Us

In the restaurant window, a sign.
a glitzy fir tree my husband wants near him.
For the evergreen scent. The tree turns out to be
a fake. We sit by it anyway,
inches from its glittering cheer.
"A typical Middle Eastern decoration," he quips.
Our waitress replies, "We're Christians,"
then names her Lebanese Catholic Church
a few blocks away. 
                                 The moussaka, baba ganooj,
and falafel please us. Learning a Middle Eastern Church
is nearby—the chance for Holy Land borders
to be blurred and erased—
gladdens me. 
                        Home early enough for a movie,
we watch a former soldier unravel amnesia,
his chronic nightmare stalling my breath as he floats
face up in a coppery sea. Israeli, he knows
he was at Sabra and Shatila. There in Beirut.
For the massacres. Knows, yet remembers
nothing. Then finally recalls himself
feeding flares into a launcher's maw. 
                                                                Red suns ooze
through a black sky. The Israeli soldiers light the way
for Lebanese Christians to push refugee children, women,
old men—like chains of paper dolls—up against walls.
Palestinians with their arms splayed, with palms and faces
flattened into stucco. 
                                      More than a quarter century later,
safe at home, I watch on a screen, seeing those Christians
fire the rifles. As many rounds as it takes.
An extra to be certain. 
                                       This Christmas I want
a real tree. I too like evergreen. Nothing less
than the haunted sting of resin in my breath
will suffice for such a holy time.
Balsam was the balm daubed onto wounds
in our own Civil War. Christian soldiers.
At Sunday School I sang Onward! to them,
just as I'd been taught. 
                                        Baby Jesus, Prince of Peace,
your birthday tree is a pagan relic. For this sacred season,
only its dark
underworld scent will do.

                       —Paulann Petersen


One Small Sun, Salmon Poetry, 2019


© Paulann Petersen, all rights reserved. You may use poems from this website for non-commercial purposes only. Poems must be used in their entirety, including any citations or acknowledgements listed at the bottom of the page. For more information, contact .