The night before Christmas

The night before Christmas
(after Randall Jarrell)

The blue & white of clouds, of sky,
the green of grass & willows –
although of course there’s usually
not much grass under willows …
It ought to be a quiet place
It ought to be a quiet place with
the river redolent as it always is in fairy tales,
redolent of so many things: the splintered
fragments of half-forgotten dreams,
the night before the night before Christmas
as Jarrell said, would have said, actually said,
& the days, all those days after the night
before the night …

Not that it matters – that nothing’s silent,
nothing’s still. The noise of course,
the noise is principally not there
under the willows but in your head:
a clamour of voices, the perpetual sound
of people talking, each somehow striving
to be heard above the rest, to be heard
& understood – so many of them,
so many before & after the night before
the night after …

your stockings lying under the window
when they should be over the fireplace.
A tinsel twist of lights & coloured paper
drifts round the room, beneath the willows.
They’re becoming – the lights & coloured paper,
drifts of tinsel – they’re becoming something
they’re not: the thousand & one nights
of Scheherazade – becoming the fabled hare
& tortoise, a wily fox waiting for the lights
to go out in the farmhouse . . .

It’s the night before the night before Christmas
& this is a quiet place – the willows & river
redolent as they are always in fables –
in fairy tales …

© The night before Christmas, from Summer in the Cote D'Azur (HeadworX, 2003), Alistair Paterson 2003, used by permission of the author. Recording from the Aotearoa New Zealand Poetry Sound Archive 2004.

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