I walked to church yesterday for the Blue Christmas service. I wore that very expensive coat I bought twenty years ago as a Christmas present for myself, and, at the time trembled as I gave the card to the cashier, wondering how I was going to really pay for it. I felt guilty at buying myself such an expensive coat when my mother was wearing my give aways. Though one coat I gave her was perfectly new. I still have my expensive coat. It is still beautiful, it is still warm and it looks just like new. You get what you pay for.
Why I am even discussing this coat or thinking about it I am not sure. Perhaps it is a remembrance of better times, happier times, when you walked into a room and trailed small clouds of exquisite perfume behind you…. And smelled it long into the night, like you my dear mother dead now almost twenty years… the gorgeous elusive perfume you smelled that day wandering into the old cottage long since abandoned by the beautiful Polish aristocrats who wore that costly scent. Perfume that forty years later you still could not forget, still pined for, still smelled and dreamed of late at night in the American city far away from those fragrant lands.
I forgot my hat and long soft scarf, the one that is five feet long almost as tall as I am, the one I have to take with me each and every day because I am always so cold. Very very cold, the kind that seeps deep into your bones. Like eating ice cream and your brain and eyes go momentarily comatose and bulge out of your head and sockets…like a heart attack about to begin or is it end.. Or maybe you are already dead. But you must keep walking.
I walked out into the early evening and realized I did not need my hat, or scarf, I barely needed my gloves. I probably could have run out just in my sweater and slacks and not froze to death. It is that warm in this middle of America City which is often in a deep snowy freeze. But it was almost fifty degrees yesterday and instead of Blue Christmas it felt like going to Easter Services in April. So soft too and quiet and spring like… everyone inside having pre Christmas parties… here and there someone harried and rushed like me– has no Christmas lights or tree or gifts…. a man was still raking leaves.. another just now stringing his lights… how very European…
Oh the walk, both frightening and beautiful. Strings of tiny Christmas lights on tall evergreens and pines, here and there festooned on very long winding fences encircling bright green lawns. Whites, golds, and silvers. Even gaudy reds, blues, and greens…. Pinks and lavendars, indigos, even those icy blues that feel like cold bones.
The only blue lights I loved were the ones at the Old Ukrainian church one Christmas Eve. All the tall firs were lit up in icy blue but somehow they looked warm like a cozy house in the forest, they looked cool like the sea in summer, they looked mysterious like a ghost following you home at night, they looked like the kneeling Madonna weeping quietly in the corner during Blue Christmas, because she knew what was to come… even then.
Those blue lights at St. Nicks, and the old church on the hill and the gold cupolas soaring into the sky and the bells ringing and having a Mama —even when you are old the word comforts– and at the same time, like icicle daggers stab you through the heart when you realize she is gone.
Oh I wish I wish I wish I was making gold chains with you… Ukrainian origami stars, and the tiny red cranberry beads like rubies… It trailed through the Christmas tree like Dylan Thomas’ daisy chains on his aunt’s old farm, it trails through my body and blood like the tear stained girl carrying her parents bones in her arms….
There were only eight of us there and the dear dear music director whose very face makes me smile! He played the piano so beautifully and the songs were of winter and despair, hope and light, of sharing each others woes and realizing it is like dust really, like mites, like the sand you wipe from your eyes, like the dead grass you trod in the park going home so late at night, like the gaseous air you smell that might be the burning sun.
Someone read a story about her parents trip out west. How they screamed all the way there and back. Of gifts given and received, in bitterness and regret, of praises kept hidden, of love torn apart, of grief and tears and vitriol… oh families… how I hate them.
But I remember you Mama, I remember you. That far away look you had in your eyes… especially the last Christmas just before you died. I will never forget. You finally went and sat by yourself in the living room and stared at my Christmas tree, the one thing I took a long time in decorating, creating, wishing it into beauty, into light, into a dazzling spectacle of deep dark forest night. How long I decorated that tree, how many hours I spent tangling and untangling and hanging those lights and taking them down again and hanging them up again and then once they were all lit…that one little light that went out just in the place everyone would see. The dark ruby and wine colored ornaments, the burnt sienna ones, the almost shocking magenta gold ones…. with tiny avant garde stars looking like Basquiat graffiti…. etched like a Cy Twombly, a Picasso, a Miro, Can I say Ruscha? Ruscha of the blood and guts and chocolate, and Ultra Violet who was his lover, had the foresight to hang out with the right crowd, an Andy Warhol superstar who finally claimed her two million dollar love letter.
Oh the myrrh the frankincense the gold.. oh the smell of the Kings’ beards, the sweat and oil and dust as they traveled miles and miles and miles to the home of the Star King, the Blood King, the Holy King the Tearyfaced King, the Humiliated Angel, the Weeping Jesus in the coffin in Basel, the one lying there waiting to be resurrected from the dead, in the room of red haired Madonnas like deep sea mermaids swimming in ecstatic seas of pain in the twilight and the dolphins and the fishes singing…Mary desperately hanging onto some old planet whose orbit is not over yet. Oh Jesus of the tear stained face who I still clutch at night and do not care what you or she or he or anyone thinks…. I smell the cedar I feel the breath I hear the beating heart of the one who carved it out of dead wood.
Oh dear Mama there will be no borscht there will be no mushroom ushki or kutya or holubtsi or varenyki or poppy seed rolls or pampushki filled with rose jam… there will be no knee high snow and the crunching of thigh high red boots worn by lovely young girls whose long ribboned braids are trailing like poppies in the snow…
There will be no cherry wine to greet the icy-breathed young ones who knock on your aged door and you greet them gladly, wildly, enthusiastically, your head brimming with gladness with madness with delirious Joy and… yes… Papa is not drunk this Christmas! Papa was healed by the cold air, the shattering stars, the dead dreams rising like the evaporating salts of the earth… he will not be made to turn into stone, just don’t look back, don’t look back… don’t look back.
The pastor yesterday sat by each of us… we six destroyed and shattered hearts, and whispered in our ears like a night angel, like the blue lit firs, like the blue eyed queen, like the snow white maiden who persevered through poisoned apples… asking us what we need what we want what is making our hearts ache so. And she prayed next to us her voice barely a whisper but it roared through our hearts like the sea. And we prayed and we breathed and we lit a candle for our dear ones the sad ones the lonely ones the broken-hearted sick ones……even the evil ones.
I walked home in the winter solstice night even though it was balmy as spring, dark as the desert, feeling the orbit of the earth and even the sun nine million miles away.
I saw the house I saw the darkness I saw the emptiness I saw the dust the moths swimming all around in the still night.. pollinating in the dark making the air flutter with a million silent beating wings….the cardinals and the sparrows are sleeping, the finches, yes finches are still here.. I saw them just yesterday in a field of goldenrod….. and the geese flew north instead of south and then they did a backwards tango in the sky.
Today my heart was cold again and that tingling in the arm is starting again again that panic in the heart and lungs and soul and brain the deep deep freeze. Oh how much I wanted to walk straight into the black inky lake yesterday! Instead of walking to church I was going to head north and then straight east, through the very rich old part of town with all the old stately mansions and the very delicate lights and the parties and designer Christmas trees and the Krug and pates and caviars and the massive bouquets of fancy flowers from that new florist who charges five dollars a stem….. and not one but two and three and four Christmas trees in the house…..
Instead, instead, instead, I felt my heart beating so fast and my arms and hands starting to go numb and my eyes glaze over from all the heartache of these last few years….. and then—and then—– I saw a single blue bird….. the blue bird of happiness the blue bird of paradise the blue bird of a vast frozen wasteland… there in my garden looking like a pile of empty bones as the gardener once again has cut down everything too soon…. the blue bird was a blue jay trying to drink water from the bird bath covered in a thin layer of ice and underneath a mass of leaves like matted dirty hair.
I was making potatoes and onions and eggs, a peasant breakfast for one, a breakfast for a weary heart that cares not if you live or die from a heart attack, bring it on heart, bring on the attack, bring it, attack my heart this minute, and now and forever hold your peace…
Oh the potatoes reminded me of sitting in a high chair me a big fat baby two years old in a DP camp and the potato queen was already starting to ruin my life with her withering tale of woe…..
And then someone said to go and feed the birds, give them food and water that they may sing and your heart rejoice… I filled the big red pot with water… my big red pot that every year I made the 1830’s borscht in…. and I carried it outside splashing the floor and the furniture and the carpet and then I decided to do my own blessing of the Son and Father and Holy ghost… oh the triads… the triads of life… the repetition over the heart the door and the window the one two three dance that sometimes is too hard and too long but you must repeat after me:::: One Two Three:::::::: and I repeated it three times for you and you and you and that this water may heal you and you and you and I walked it over three times and it splashed into the crumbing bird bath three times and I walked back into the holy house that was free of all evil now.
I looked out the window and suddenly saw a tiny blue bird and then a sparrow a wren a finch a chickadee…and then a cardinal they all came flying into the garden from nowhere and splashed and frolicked and danced in and out of the sanctified holy place flying in the air, oh how little do they care that the lilac is starting to bud in December how little they care that the air smells like April that the grass is greening in December little do they care that the irises are starting… There I was at the window staring at these flying creatures that some Big Bang Boom did not put in the air…..and all the sorrow in my head and heart and even eyes vanished and whom do I thank and whom do I praise? And whom do I revile? And whom do I sink down to now on my knees and weep now knowing that I will no longer have a care in this world anymore…. because it is Blue Christmas and I have blue water and blue birds flying in and out of the blue lit trees.