The O'Hara Christmas

I was 11 the Christmas
my father sat in a cracked wingback
reading John O'Hara under Bourboned breath,
straining the words through his teeth,
stowing their hard stone centers
like ball-shot in his reddened cheeks

while my mother listened
to Ramsey Lewis sing about the sounds
of the season as she downed nog
after nog minus the egg and cream,
heavy on the Wild Turkey and shelled pecans
for winter pies into a bowl
decorated with festive silver bells.

Every now and then
she flicked a nut-meat at father,
bounced it off his head just like Gordie Howe
bounced pucks off the net and she'd sing
"Goddamn ye mirthless gemmamin"
and laugh and flick and flick and laugh
until he smiled at her over his page,
rolling the stones
in his cheek with his tongue,
so careful not to let them fly

and my brother, who was 9 that year,
without my 2 extra terms of smart,
looked up from his Etch-A-Sketch
long enough to ask what was so funny about
getting pelted with pecans and being
forced to listen to the Ramsey Lewis Trio
when we should be tapping our feet
to the holiday stylings
of Dave Seville and his Chipmunks

but my father just kept his smile and said
"it’s for ourselves to know, son,
it’s for ourselves to know-"

10 Christmases and an American Lit course later,
I realized why he was so good at tonguing stones.


I remember what they said
when we were not drunk,
or propping stools against
the same bar or even packing
our blunts in the same state
and speaking of states; in which
do their respective minds reside?
Pot-bellied pretender, moonstruck magpie;
throwing tilts in elliptical orbits,
barking edicts in stilted rants,
they long to eat the world and can’t-

only lettershapers, after all;
pointless pitons planted in argot,
they fall backwards off their own shoulders,
spilling vowels and consonants from
stuffed shirts and padded push-ups;
words without sentences hunt the air
between them at a loss for thought and
conversation brings us to this wasted place,
everything else being extinct
when we were not drunk,
propped against different bars,
stoned in other time-zones.
I remember what they said.