Saturday, December 24, 2011

In Clara's House

In Clara’s House

In your house
Christmas was always kept
my grandfather getting the tree
from the VA lot, cheap and scrawny,
you and I making it fit to be seen
before the sisters and the cousins came
to eat.

In your house
a discard was an ornament
something broken could be fixed
and used again
something ugly could be cleaned
and put in a place of pride

In your house
African violets ruled in fertile hosts,
as big as geraniums, green guards with mauve caps
or cobalt, protecting every table, every window,
grown from microleaves I watched you cut and
place on soil like rows of crops from the farm 
you couldn’t have.

In your house
you set the table
carved and heavy, massive made,
covered with lace where all the family came 
for groaning meals, where on off days
a child could hide between the legs
and be a lion.

In your house
a child with one mother lost
could have another found, 
in tales and talk, in times
smelling of coffee cardamom
and soap, mother hands brushing princess hair,
braiding it into dragontails.

In your house,
Christmas was always kept.
The tree star watched while we sang
and the casual blows and formal fear,
the hidden anger and secret prisons
of that other house
were nothing for awhile.
December 2010

Clara & Ragnar with african violet, 195?

This poem was originally posted last year at the inimitable One Stop Poetry, reposted for dVerse Poets Pub 

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year, and Happy Holidays in all shapes and forms to my friends, fellow poets and all reading this.

Header Photo of Clara Mathilda Carlson taken by Robert Studio, Chicago, Ill, 195?


  1. smiles...i am glad that for a bit the magic that is christmas took over and you could forget the other house...discards for ornaments yeah we had that a bit as well...smiles...merry christmas from your politically incorrect friend...smiles...

  2. I remember this well. At this time of year, I just want to say to you THANK GODDESS THIS XMAS CRAP IS ALMOST OVER!!! *smiles benignly*

  3. Clara sounded Kick Ass To Me!!!
    Merry Christmas Joy Ann...G

  4. Thanks for sharing this Christmas Piece hedge. Definitely relate here on some levels but the idea of a reprieve is significant to me. Great job. Merry Christmas

  5. Thanks for sharing this! :)

    I hope you have a wonderful holiday season!

    And thanks so much for your fun contribution to last week's Limerick-Off!

  6. this really touched me hedge... sounds like she was a wonderful woman...esp. touched by
    ..something broken could be fixed
    and used again
    something ugly could be cleaned
    and put in a place of pride... this sounds like it went far beyond "things" and we need more places like this..

  7. Merry Christmas, Joy. Have a wonderful holiday.

  8. A lovely post..I am glad you reposted it.

    Wishing you Merry Christmas and all the best for the new year ~

  9. Oh absolutely...I get this. Merry Christmas

  10. Good and precious memories are what make these holidays worth bearing. Beautiful poem.

  11. Oh yes, Joy, that last stanza says it all.
    Merry Christmas!


  12. A lovely pot pourri of Christmas that must be very special to you.

    I wish you everything you wish for yourself.

  13. Hi Joy--a moving poem and beautifully evoked--the lace, the massive table legs, the princess hair, the lion, the African violets-- thanks.

    Hope you had a great Christmas. K.

  14. Joy,
    Lovely stories of joy and fun memories. Merry Christmas and Best Wishes for the New Year!


  15. Thank goodness there are people like Clara in the world to provide a haven for at least a little while. Sounds like you learned some valuable lessons about life there.

  16. Christmas does weigh heavy, doesn't it? I wonder if you thought during those times of the escape, or of what you were to return to, is that a sad pondering? A moving write that has a wonderful flow to it, not to mention the imagery...the table and pretending to be a lion; the African Violets (though I wanted to know if they all sat on doilies); What I loved most about this, though, were your pictures. Clara and your grandfather, how wonderful as I try to compare him to the one as a young boy. I dare say that we are both a bit skeptical of this thing called Christmas, though, deep down perhaps our child's heart still wishes to close ones eyes for a while and dream.

    Merry Christmas, Joy! May your dreams tonight be of a place where sugar plums dance and fairy lights reveal a bit of magic that may just stay when the sun chases away the night ~

  17. Thanks, Angela. No, as a child I was able to totally compartmentalize--when I was with my grandparents, there was no other world, till I had to go back. But I spent much of my young years being raised by them, so going back was thankfully only periodic. My problem (now) with Christmas I think is that only so much of it is dependent on oneself--there is so much over which one has no control, so many outside forces telling you how you should feel, what you should be doing, yadda yadda. Makes it hard to hang on to those feelings of magic and wonder. (And yes, there were doilies everywhere--ecru cotton, hand-crocheted in any spare moment.)

    AFA my dreams--you know how they are. ;_)

  18. A charming effect Christmas has, I like that the problems for some time vanish and the joy of being with family comforts.
    A lovely piece, thanks for re-posting :)

  19. Joy,
    I admire especially the second stanza--renewal, regeneration. But the whole is a great gathering of atmosphere and mood. Excellent.

  20. A wonderful Christmas write! Your grandmother sounds like someone who shared "Christmas" all year!

  21. You made me cry with this one, hedgewitch. It made me intensely miss my Mom.

    Hope your Christmas was beautiful and I wish the same for your brand spanking new year.

  22. Ah, sorry Talon. I know that's such a fresh hurt for you. When I lost my grandmother I would find myself just tearing up at random, for almost two years. But I was crying about the good memories, and all she meant to me, so it wasn't a bad thing. Thanks for reading, and best wishes your way.

  23. I have no words for the other house. But for this one, I love the African violet protection and the growing lioness under the table, protected and learning good things. It helps me understand the power and strength of the poetess, and the other house helps me see something of the pain to be protected from. Merry Christmas (late) and an African Violet (so far from "violent" isn't it?) New Year! (Plants seem to consistently be on the salvation side of things here, another thing I love.)

  24. Sorry to be late getting by, just getting out of the whale's belly of the holiday -- how many myths and folktales are there of the accidents of birth, of adoptions and fosterage in a true care beyond the poisoned confines of birth-family? So often grandmothers take up the task of re-mothering, and I think it gives the child a later vantage on age that is sweet. My mother went through a lot of the above, and always wanted to be just like her grandmother Ganga. And is. Everything lush and wonderful in Clara's house I'm sure is underscored by the absence of it elsewhere. A fine way through the Christmas holocaust, finding something to say Yes to. - Brendan

  25. The cardamom, lion-game, dragontails, and detailing of the African violets really rocked! I liked too how the narrator notes that Clara would have wanted a farm -- it gives her an extra dimension and their relationship a twoway flow, i.e., her home is an important refuge for her granddaughter, but it might not be quite the home she'd most have wanted, and her granddaughter has come to realize this.


"We make out of the quarrel with others, rhetoric, out of the quarrel with ourselves, poetry." ~William Butler Yeats

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