Sunday, December 18, 2016

a story-poem for the holiday season, Sylvia Manning

Poet Albert Huffstickler's birthday was yesterday, December 17 -- also Pope Francis' and Chelsea (formerly Bradley) Manning's. 

The only other successful poetry group I've known was in Huff's little Austin apartment.  This group was called The Hyde Park Poets.

Huff always asked us to write a poem for the winter holidays, so I have done.  It's more like a short short story isn't it?  But I don't bother to worry about that.  I'm worried about the mothers with children seeking asylum at our southern border, thrown into detention camps, let go with nothing to find their way across the country on long bus rides.  This is about just one of them.

St. Nicholas' night is December 6.  Where I was born, a German American town, St. Nic's night was still observed when I was a child.  My own family didn't do it -- have us hang a stocking at the foot of the bed, December 6 -- but my cousins did.  They were not especially good all year, these cousins, if you ask me, but even so they got nifty things in those stockings.  If you haven't been good, St. Nic is supposed to leave you a piece of coal or bundle of sticks.  The "old person" is sitting in for St. Nic, I think. 

There are some Spanish words, but most of them are explained with English nearby.  The blanket is in bright colors indígenos, meaning Indian.  In ola de frío, ola means leaf, literally, but the phrase means a cold spell.  Los jefes means the chiefs, the bosses (of the drug cartels, the police, local gansters, etc.  They're all in cahoots.)  No tenemos nada means "We have nothing."

It's really in two justified columns, and I like it that way, but it wouldn't transfer from Word.

Mother and Child
(Saint Nicholas’ Night, San Antonio)

There the young mother in corner of old pew
with child in her arms needing more warmth,
especially this daughter coughing, weariness
from coughing too often in her dark eyes, 
fatigue in the mother’s face as well, as well
there has to be, however young she is, herself,

after what they’ve both been through,
through la hielera, the freezer, customary
lodging for women and children detained by
ICE, Immigration and Customs Enforcement

after their coming through México -- itself
made cold-hearted now by threats from
los jefes below and above --

and through all of this not understanding
why, once here, the rich norteños cannot
afford leñas for warmth, or pieces of coal
if that’s what they use in a cold spell
(una ola de frío, another mother used -- to tell her
it wasn’t always this way here, this cold)

though not on purpose here like la hielera 
at the detention center, to keep other
mothers from trying to bring their children
to safety, not meant to hurt them so that others
would learn of it and not come.

She decides to pray to San Antonio here in
this cold chapel in this city in Texas named
for him, in whatever kind of church this is,
whatever kind, in this city named for him.
O gentle and loving St. Anthony,  [she prays
silently, certainly in Spanish] whose heart
was ever full of human sympathy, whisper my
petition into the ears of the sweet Infant who
loved to be folded in your arms; and the
gratitude of my heart will ever be yours.

If we could safely reach Florida [she adds,
after pausing to listen to her daughter cough
deeply] and be warm there so she can be strong
and play in the sun and grow up to go to school
and someday truly love and someday
have a child of her own? 

An old person comes to sit beside her,
offering a small blanket, light, bright with
colors indígenos.  Tells her to keep it
for the bus ride, says the bus will be cold, too.
Asks her if she has any money.  
Looks away from her tears when she has to say,
No, no tenemos nada,” then gives her the first money
from this country that she has ever seen, the first money
of any kind that she has seen  
since the little she carried
was soon taken.

 In a few hours her daughter can take the medicine again.
Maybe now it will help, after they’ve rested with the blanket
around them both.  When the little one sleeps she will pray again,
but this time for all of them, for all mothers everywhere in the world
who are trying to find a way for their children to be free
from violence and slavery.  Yes, all mothers and children everywhere,
but especially these others who have come so far, suffered so much,
wanted so long to be safe, waiting together in this ola de frío 
to move on to warmth, tomorrow or the next day.

And maybe she will pray
to some other saint, another,
not just to San Antonio.

                                                                                                                     [written Dec. 13, 2016 after Dec. 6, 2016,
                                                                                                                       Interfaith Welcoming Coalition effort at
                                                                                                                       Mennonite Church of San Antonio] 


Heard Billy Collins read three poems last night on the Lake Woebegone radio hour.  Did anyone else hear him?  The selections seemed quite inappropriate to the season, but I'm sure most people feel differently.  (I like our poems better than his, even if we did come together because of Poetry 180.)

So how about some more Christmas/holiday poems, folks?  If you send them to me at, I'll post them here on the blog for you. 

And just in case nobody's told you yet:  Merry Christmas! 

No comments:

Post a Comment