With Lego Logos and others
Excerpt from Chlora's Book of the Month Club: November and December
Copyright 2015, Ginger Henry Geyer
Right after Thanksgiving, Chlora's family acquires a lot of firewood when a huge oak is felled by an ice storm at the farm. Here, Uncle Clarence is chopping wood.
Chlora fixated on the spiraling smoke
that smudged the crystal blue winter sky.
She walked toward the small bonfire.
It crackled and swelled
with every addition of tree branches.
Uncle Clarence showed Chlora
the stump he used to split logs.
See these growth rings, can you count 'em?
Tells you how old this tree was and how long
the droughts were. Once we get
the splintered trunk of that big oak
over there all evened out,
you’ll see a century’s worth of rings.
You wouldn't know its history
if it hadn't falled over.
The women say it is kinda like the dead wood
on the membership rolls at church;
when a little ice gets them, they fall
under their own weight.
That old Tree of Life, sprawled
across the entire yard,
made for a heart breaking loss.
But live oak makes good firewood
and the family would be supplied
for years to come if they could
ever get it all cut and stacked.
Todd, Chlora's cousin, said it'd jam pack
the woodshed in no time flat,
which was fine by him
since that rusty old woodshed would
no longer be available for whippings.
Clarence tossed some evergreen branches
onto the fire. It sparked in protest.
Gotta burn off some of this pesky cedar.
It burns too fast for the fireplace, makes smoke.
But it sure smells good.
He said the cedar split well
because it was half frozen.
This here old hickory wood is best.
We’ve cleared it out of the woodshed
for y'all to take home. Gotta make room.
Chlora asked if they could make a
chainsaw sculpture out of the big tree trunk,
something like a bear or an Indian chief.
Uncle Clarence said he wasn't about to
add more kitsch to the weary world
but if she wanted a Good Shepherd,
they could talk. Meanwhile, girl,
center your creative fire in hearth and home.
Right now, a split rail fence would suffice
as an artistic endeavor.
Later Uncle Ernest and Clarence stacked
several armloads of freshly cut firewood
in the back of Chlora's family station wagon.
The long white car sagged toward the rear.
That weight will help you drive on the ice.
But you better let that oak
sit a spell before burning it. That wood’s
so green it'll clog up your chimney
and smoke you out of your house.
But it'll make mighty fine burning and
keep you toasty this time next year.
While we're at it, here's you some
of the seasoned hickory.
Now see, here's the difference.
Uncle Ernest whacked two old gray
hickory logs together.
They made a hollow sound, whereas
the sticky new wood clomped.
And remember to bring it inside
to room temperature
afore you burn it, cause that
damp wood'll hiss like a snake.
We can no longer tear the world apart
to make our fire, but if we can
sustain this fire of creative energy
we will experience something called
Remember our savior, on his way to the cross
said "If they do this when wood is green,
what'll happen when it's dry?"
Chlora asked what was that
supposed to mean.
Uncle Ernest replied,
who knows, honey.
Just be a good tender
of the flame.
In early December, Chlora helps decorate the house, and reconsiders three obnoxious items:
At certain times of the year
time flies, but it did not
in the weeks before Christmas.
In that period called advent,
time is warped.
The wooden cuckoo clock said so every hour.
It owned the center spot above the fireplace,
the pride of place. Brass pinecones dangled
below the clock, almost touching
the mantle below.
If a mantle was a shelf above the fireplace,
how come Elijah would hand off
his mantle to Elisha? Maybe the mantle
is what caught on fire, not his chariot.
Words are just as warped as time is.
The dutiful little cuckoo poked out of
his house when the clock chimed the hours.
He was like the canary in the coal mines,
the first to go if fumes got too bad.
This time of year it seemed like
the cuckoo clock's hands traveled
counterclockwise and the little birdie
came out dazed and confused.
Maybe the clock had inhaled
too much second-hand smoke.
It drove the family cuckoo…
tick, tick, tick, tick, tick…
relentlessly chirping about
the passage of time
which was either too slow (for the kids)
or too fast (for the adults).
As if life itself can be measured in tick-tocks.
Time and time again the grown-ups
found themselves racing against the clock,
all of them in perpetual motion,
their rears in gear.
On Mom's kitchen desk was her To Do list.
It was a mile long; and in the eleventh hour
she would have to triage it so
important things would get done first,
and the rest could just fall away.
The clock was carved,
(actually more of a crude hacking)
somewhere in the Black Forest
where grim brothers make up scary fairy tales
and chocolate cakes with cherries inside
and hunt down magnificent stags in the woods.
A stiff looking stag was
part of the clock's décor.
Chlora stuck a maraschino cherry
on his nose to make him into
Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer.
The cherry fell off, staining
both the clock and the carpet below.
Chlora figuring her tinkering with the clock
might help time move faster.
She stood in wait for the cuckoo's
next outing and hurriedly painted him red
before he retreated into his birdhouse.
Every home needs a red bird;
they are harbingers of hope.
Chlora was a bit intimidated
by the wild phoenix that topped the clock.
The phoenix was the original firebird,
who built her aromatic nest out of
frankincense and myrrh.
She knew how to feather her nest,
just like Mom knew how to decorate the house.
But the phoenix's nest would burn up
like a funeral pyre, and a chick would
be born in the embers to rise again.
Frankincense and myrrh,
rising again in three days,
so who is this supposed to remind us of?
Under the generous, overloaded branches
of the nearby Christmas tree
was the toy wooden train
that Chlora received last year.
Not only did it not have any track,
it looked like something the babies
next door would play with.
As more presents were bought and wrapped
and piled under the tree,
the toy train would get lost under there.
It was nothing like the toy train
Chlora wanted to be a micromanager,
so she studied the small things, such as
the multi-part electric train sets
in the hardback catalog called
Bennett Blue Book of Quality Merchandise.
She had folded down the page corners
for both doll houses and toy trains.
But dollhouses were all about the interior life,
which meant rearranging the stagnant furniture
in the same set of rooms,
whereas trains were the outer life,
an adventure of the unknown, exterior world.
The catalog offered a dozen
choices for trains, and she had circled
pictures of every car she wanted,
that is, every car she needed.
The Gilbert American Flyer
had all the best cars.
That model was called Smokey Mountain
and it cost a whopping $59.00.
Just as fancy were the Lionel trains,
with a smoke-spewing locomotive that made a
high-pitched whistle to keep cows off the track.
The hopper was where a cop and a hobo
chased each other back and forth.
Chlora waffled between a missile launcher
and the helicopter launcher, but knew she
absolutely had to have the box car
with a coin slot—a bank on wheels is even
better than a drive-through.
And the Mobil Gas tank car,
the automobile transport full of Chevys,
and the glamorous domed dining car.
Next she admired the practical cars like the
log carrier, a gondola for coal and another
one for gravel, and of course the sleeping car
with individual berths. And one should always
include a line up of animal carriers
for the circus train in case the circus
came to town.
Such a set-up would necessitate
yards of tracks, several tunnels to
provide hide and seek, signage,
crossings, trestles and couples,
and a remote control.
Especially the remote control.
Her list went on and on.
She wanted that train so badly
she could taste its smoke.
Perhaps she had been overly influenced
by the Little Engine that Could.
I think I can, I think I can, I think I can…
Would the power of positive thinking
make the dream come true?
Apparently not, as last fall Chlora
had gone around the house singing
her own medley of
Johnny Cash's I hear that train a-comin',
comin' down the track, which morphed into
Cat Stevens' Peace Train, followed by
Little Red Caboose chug chug chug…
Even the dog got Gravy Train as a hint,
but Santa chose to derail her with a stupid
wooden train that went nowhere.
It was like riding the kiddie mini train
in the park rather than the real one
that went up to Chicago.
This was the final straw for Santa Claus,
whose story was dubious anyhow.
If he didn't listen any better than that,
he was not her friend
and could not be depended on.
All year long, Chlora tried to be a good sport
but this dinky wooden train
had no initiative whatsoever.
Not only was it not propelled by its own steam,
it had to be pulled along,
which meant she had to walk
backwards even to see it.
Last night she scooped up some hot embers
from the fireplace with kitchen tongs
and loaded up the wooden coal car.
The embers scorched the train,
and when it cooled down
she put the coals in her little brother's stocking.
She made a tunnel for the train
out of a shoe box,
but the engine got stuck in there,
like people with tunnel vision who
can't get out of their own box.
Since the wooden train was mute,
Chlora had to mimic the lonely train whistle
they could hear from faraway
on quiet evenings. That cooing sound
was perhaps the best thing about real trains,
and her lungs did not have the capacity to
exude the low-pitched whistle long enough
to make it sound as lonely as it should.
She even glued pictures on each train car,
to signify presence and absence
which seemed to her to be the bookends
of train travel: either you are coming or
you are going. You're
anticipating the train's presence
or lamenting its absence.
How could the inept little train ever pull so much
with its heavy laden freight of images?
The Little Engine That Could was
getting worn out.
That train was on its way to Glory Land.
Making tracks for it was impossible.
It couldn't even symbolize cyclical time
by going around and around the Christmas tree,
or head up to the north pole
like the Polar Express.
It was doomed to be cute and relentlessly
go only one way to the end of time.
This train was definitely from
the other side of the tracks.
But then, so was the Virgin Mary.
How can anything good
come out of Nazareth?
A whiff of narcissistic paper whites
interrupted her train of thought
and Chlora went back on the hunt for
more Christmas decorations.
The entire house looked like an
embarrassment of riches, but surely something
else needed to be decorated.
Chlora goes Christmas shopping in a nice department store, and later wraps gifts…
A sales clerk swished up behind Chlora
and asked What are we looking for today?
Who is we? The royal we?
Then he suggested the little lady might prefer
the Madame Alexander doll display
in the next room.
Chlora asked the clerk if they sold
sensitivity training here.
Or perhaps the clerk would like to see
what she had done to her Betsy Wetsy?
Chlora had gotten got side-tracked by the train
and the hockey and suddenly remembered
she was there to buy her little brother some Legos.
She pretended to be wealthy and cultivated
and told the salesman
that she was just doing her patriotic duty,
shopping to boost the US economy,
and was looking for the best that money can buy.
Where are your Legos?
She knew those darn Legos were expensive,
but maybe the clerk would go away.
He made a grand gesture toward
an entire section of construction toys.
A display of little plastic figures
connected with the Legos.
He held up a knight on a horse
and a pirate with a sword and
suggested she buy these plus one of each
of the other figures, along with their
accoutrements and a
a large set of various blocks.
He went on to explain that the poet Coleridge
had coined the term esemplastic
for this very reason:
an imaginative mind could combine things from
all realms of human endeavor
into a unified work,
and children would learn this power
by playing around with Lego figures.
Or, might her dear brother prefer
the pirate ship with all its necessary contents
in one large box? That was seductive until
Chlora looked at the price tag.
She wondered aloud
what the economy of God was like.
She had a Divine Economy comic book
with Dante’s Divine Comedy on it.
Maybe it could explain all this.
Did God succumb to the
charms of propaganda?
He certainly has an embarrassment of riches.
Does he expect something in return?
What about planned obsolescence?
Did abundance here depend
on scarcity everywhere else?
The clerk lifted his chin, clicked his heels
and replied yes, my dear, it is all materialistic.
That IS how it IS!
Are we supposed to acquiesce to that,
Ignore it, or fight it?
Why don’t you just enjoy it every now and then?
Mom appeared and gave the
salesman one of her looks.
Chlora fretted over the bewildering array of
expensive blocks and figures.
Her mom advised Chlora to buy only
what she could afford.
Chlora settled on a starter set with
mixed blocks and she selected a
few key little people.
She faced difficult decisions, dependent
upon the amount of available money,
and the qualms over extending stereotypes
of people. Chlora counted up every
penny she’d brought.
She then launched into more questions:
How come we have to give
so many gifts anyway?
Should we blame our acquisition neurosis
on the three wise men?
This hunting and gathering, this
shop till you drop business made her
so depressed that she craved chocolate
and begged her Mom for a candy bar.
She got it along with the admonition to
please stop asking questions and
just go pay for the blasted Legos.
Back home, Chlora dug into the box of
Christmas bows and gift-wrap.
She liked to wrap presents,
making each one different,
although sometimes variety wears thin.
None of those gift bags for her;
peek-proof gift wrap with lots of Scotch tape.
She wanted it all wrapped up
and firmly tied in a neat red bow,
making the means meet the ends
like Machiavelli did.
A booby trap bow was especially
important for J.P.'s gift
because he knew how to unwrap, peek,
and rewrap presents so no one could tell.
She felt especially satisfied
to find a box that fit just right.
All the little Lego figures were just fine
in an upright Kleenex box.
The box of Lego blocks
didn't need another box
so that was like being given a short cut.
She set aside the scissors and tape,
which always vanished while wrapping.
Some of the rolls of wrap were brand new
but some of the paper had been
recycled for years.
She selected a piece
with Mickey Mouse and Pluto
tearing into the gifts.
The paper was crumpled up
and had old Scotch tape
stuck on the edges, but her little brother
wouldn't know the difference.
There are two kinds of gift unwrappers—
and the neat-nick paper savers.
J.P. was definitely a destroyer.
But before Chlora wrapped up the Legos
she could not resist taking a look.
These could be long gone
after Christmas morning.
Legos had a way of disappearing
under the bed, under the rug,
or swallowed up by the couch
or worse yet, the gobbling vacuum cleaner.
She pried open the Legos box.
Legos meant I built it.
It was sort of like "logos",
which meant word.
Chlora felt it would be appropriate
to build a word. How about a word
that was puzzling, like Jesus.
Legos— Log-logos -logic-log on, logistics
the J-word, the expletive of choice,
is it more polite than the F-word?
Parts and whole-Legos,
body of Christ wholeness.
Chlora practiced saying it in the mirror,
with her teeth bared,
loudly drawing out the word
like the TV evangelists did:
It rhymes with WEEJUS, as in
"We jus' thank ya, Lord,
We jus' ask you to bless us,"
and louder yet,
"We jus' humbly stand before your throne…"
The Jesus she knew
would find this appalling,
as if his name was the size of a billboard,
like garish in-your-face graffiti.
Or it was super friendly,
like a nametag stuck on the
sniffy end of a dog.
Each decade built its own JESUS,
so Chlora spelled it out with
Legos to see if it would stand still.
It kept tipping over, off-balanced from
wee little Lego figures she stuck on it.
They were like the stereotypes
that always hung around the name Jesus—
Robin Hood, the Doctor, Mr. Wizard,
a Fireman who rescues us from hell,
a Policeman, The Knight in Shining Armor,
the nice Teacher, even a glow-in-the-dark
Holy Ghost knocking on the
door of your heart. Each one was like
a little part of Jesus, but none
made up the whole.
No sweet baby Jesus,
but there were some weapons
in case he had to do an apologetic.
His best weapon, however,
was probably a spoon.
Where was it? Chlora suddenly felt guilty
about playing with her brother's gift before
giving it to him. But this was quite a set-up,
so she took a picture
with her Brownie camera.
Then she popped the Lego Logos apart
and stuffed the pieces back into their boxes.
A quick wrap job with Mickey Mouse paper
did it, with half a roll of plaid ribbon tied
in knots and bows. None of those pre-fab
bows would bind these boxes together.
The esemplastic power
of the poetic imagination
to unify disparate objects had just begun.
A few weeks later, it is Christmas night…
Truly nothing was cozier than
hearth and home on Christmas night.
All the hubbub had evacuated the house,
the dishwasher hummed and
the crusty smell of Mom's
shepherd's pie lingered.
Fire light flickered off of crystal decanters
and twinkle bulbs on the Christmas tree
slow-danced on the silver tray.
The living room was wonder land
and it was a wonder that the family
didn't use it more often.
This is where the fireplace lived,
and most of the year it stood empty.
Long ago, the hearth was the
center of every home for good reason—
that's where dinner was cooked.
No more; we were lucky to pop popcorn
in that fireplace now.
A fire in the fireplace
was just for winter ambience;
it couldn't warm up the place
half as fast as the heating system.
But on a bonafide cold evening,
nothing said Home Sweet Home
like a roaring fireplace.
In front of it, J.P. played
with his new Legos; he had retrieved the
Kleenex box full of little figures
and was trying to stick them
onto the JESUS word
that Chlora had replicated for him.
She had been bossy about it all,
demanding that he arrange
the blocks just so. J.P. fretted.
Meanwhile Joanie Kay and
Chlora silently planned what to re-gift
or donate the thrift store.
One item definitely had to go:
that training bra that appeared
in Chlora's stocking.
Santa Claus was not only inept,
he was a pervert.
Chlora eyed the crumpled package
with the bra which edged out
of the sofa cushions
where she had stashed it.
The flat-out truth was that this was
All the stockings now drooped;
Chlora felt tempted to leave something
in her stocking for next year,
just to extend the surprise.
But the stockings would get packed away
and that item might be needed
during the year.
The family listened to scratchy
Christmas carol records on the stereo console.
It was impossible for Chlora to pick
a favorite carol, but "Away in a Manger"
had stayed by her side 'til morning is night.
Next up, "Let it Snow, let it snow, let it snow"
…we're still good-byeing
and the fire is slowly dying…
When the fire flickered among the ashen logs,
Dad shifted them with a poker and whispered
Come on baby, light my fire.
Chlora, no playing with fire, but
go find some more wood.
And don't bring in any green logs.
We gotta keep the home fires burning.
Chlora put on her hat and her boots
and slipped out the door into the frosty night.
She glanced at the backyard shed.
No sign of the fawn she had seen last night.
That sighting, the tiny spotted guy curled
up on the garden hose, was her
own personal Christmas Eve miracle.
Would the fawn ever return?
The woodpile was stalwart and quiet.
It had a massive solid presence,
each log stacked just so to keep
the steadiness intact.
Most of those logs were from
the big Tree of Life chopped up
like a sacrifice at Thanksgiving.
All of these logs were supposedly
green but they looked brown and gray.
Chlora took three older logs
from the small pile they'd been working
through all month and lugged them inside.
They tumbled out of her arms
onto the hearth, jiggling the andirons.
Dad stacked the logs just so and asked
Chlora to find some newspaper for kindling.
She looked around for the gossip section.
Anybody could start a fire
with that scandal sheet.
Dad let her do the duty with a long match.
Another match, still nothing caught on.
Chlora suggested they throw
in a burning bush to get the fire started.
A delayed and lazy
snap, crackle, and pop preceded flames
that hurriedly crept between the logs.
Every color roared forth,
even electric blue and green.
Then the fire subsided again.
Now you need to fan the flames, Chlora.
And watch it and add a little more
fuel to the fire when it gets low.
We are all gonna go in the kitchen and
leave you be. Dad gave Chlora a smooch
and shut the door.
Chlora took the poker and jabbed
at the logs. Tending the fire was a
welcomed assignment; it showed that
she was trusted.
A real, live fire was a sure advantage over
fake, flatulent fireplace logs.
You could burn time itself
as the tree rings went up in smoke.
Chlora adjusted the andirons slightly.
The front of the fireplace
looked like a proscenium for the theatre.
The andirons were cantors, similar to
Christmas carolers with their music books.
But unlike the merry carolers,
these figures were of monks or saints,
rather Catholic in appearance, with
gestures that indicated they were grieving,
Why, on a night like this?
Was it because somebody
wanted to burn their books?
What had the cantors lost
that required such lament?
Mom had told Chlora that the andirons
were sculptures that were copied
after ones from a Gothic funeral procession,
dozens of them circling a fancy
French duke's tomb,
marching on, like life does, just on and on,
each carrying away a piece of the pain.
Each of the original alabaster figures
had different poses and expressions
that ranged from anguish to acceptance.
They were in a French travel book,
in a spread about Dijon,
which was not just a mustard,
but a town in Burgundy, which was
the color of Christmas.
Chlora felt sad for people
who mourned at Christmas.
The day was supposed to be the happiest
time of the year. Mourners might be
blessed in the Beatitudes,
but it was not fair
to be a mourner on Christmas.
Maybe they were an illustration
of light that overcomes the darkness,
standing there all in white
against the deep darkness
of the sooty fireplace.
Chlora gazed at pictures of the Dijon tomb,
which was both beautiful and sad.
She got bummed out and
decided she would burn up some pain, too.
She went to the wonderful new typewriter
Santa had brought. Maybe he wasn’t so
dumb after all. But the typewriter kept
making typos, especially reproducing
an image of a painting
that was stuck in her mind.
Chlora ripped the picture out of the track.
Frida Kahlo had painted some awful
self-portrait as a wounded deer.
Hopefully that doe wasn't related
to the real fawn she had seen in the shed.
Chlora offered the Kahlo to the fire.
Maybe it would purify her pain.
Bigger yet was the pain of the world,
the kind that consumed presence,
the very being of people.
If she could, she would burn up apathy,
greed, and violence—why not
just name them all,
fill flammable containers with pain,
and commit them to ashes?
Nobody was looking so she
grabbed the wooden train
from under the Christmas tree.
She mentally filled each train car
with the sorrows of the world—
bad religion, poverty, injustice, hunger,
genocide, war, drugs, neglect, racism,
willing stupidity, despair, pride, apathy.
That little train never did have enough cars.
Thrown to the flames,
the train enacted the opposite of what
Magritte may have intended for his
painting of the locomotive roaring out
of a fireplace. His "Time Transfixed"
made Chlora want to fill in the blanks.
That picture somehow put time out of gear,
as eternity does, and put you on the track
to transformation. Who knew why, it was
merely a locomotive, an empty fireplace,
a mantle with a pair of candles and a clock.
Chlora's toy train became a runaway,
a train wreck,
its mass transit of transgressions
going the speed of life in the flames.
Now derailed, the toy train was finally
on the right track as it disappeared.
Its broiling visage had the stand-still effect
of time travel, as when you’re sitting
backwards on a train while forward motion
distorts the view out the window.
The gassy aura gobbled up the train cars
and their contents, leaving behind
that odd incredulity that asks
HOW could that happen?—
which is best seen in Anselm Kiefer’s
huge paintings of Nazi death trains,
trains upon train, their presence
witnessed to only by their leftover tracks.
Fa-la-la-lala pulled Chlora out
of this funk in the Saint Nick of time.
Somebody smarter than she would
need to pile on the heresies
of the Holocaust and sort them out.
Joan of Arc was burned at the stake
for wearing pants and loving God too much.
Who is in charge of heresies anyhow?
And then Joan got sainted.
Feeling much more virtuous now for
having vented her anger, Chlora
watched as the fire died down.
She looked around the room for objects
that were just annoyances
and needed to be put out of their misery.
First, right above her,
centered over the mantle,
was that obnoxious wooden cuckoo clock.
It'll feel good to burn up some time,
experience time breaking in two,
like it does during a religious experience.
or why not just bring on the end of time?
She tossed in the clock alongside the
remnants of the train. Crash and burn!
The clock took its time to catch fire
due to the persistence of memory
on its roof. The roof curled down,
the whole structure warped
and the poor red cuckoo popped out,
mute, for the first and last time.
Time was definitely getting out of gear.
What if Chlora was responsible
for the end of time?
That is what it probably sounded like
when Stravinsky's rhythmic Firebird
premiered. Time had been arrested,
whether linear or cyclical, time
could never heal all wounds.
The cuckoo clock was all burned up,
except for the phoenix on top, still
arising from the ashes.
But all in due time, she also would expire
into ashes to ashes and
get back to her essence.
Perhaps this wasn't such a bad thing,
perhaps it was a purifying fire
Pain was one thing to burn,
annoyances were, too.
Why not add
humiliation to the pile?
With the zeal of Savonarola,
the crazed purifier of Florence,
Chlora decided to host her own
bonfire of the vanities.
That frilly little training bra fit the bill.
Chlora would have none of this
push-up business, not like those two
busty ladies of the Louvre,
one a gypsy tart with her boulder-holder
for the twins, the other a demure
The best boobs in art contest
should be awarded to
Manet's bare breasted blonde.
Chlora agreed to grow boobs
if they'd look au natural like hers.
Or maybe like the Madonna del Latte’s,
breasts used for their
nobly intended purpose
of nourishing new life, rather than
for igniting jealous violence
among males who don’t have
their own set of twin beauties.
Burn, baby burn!
Had there ever really been a bra burning
as satisfying as this one?
The flat-out truth was that
only flat-chested women would advocate
banning the bra, according to her Mom.
Chlora was more like the little
sister in the Song of Solomon,
the one others worried about
because with no curves she’d
never be able to attract a husband.
But if Chlora ever got to the double
lettered bras that her mom wore,
she would pull herself up
by her own bra straps, thank you very much!
Now the fire did roar, as would her mom
if she saw what Chlora had done.
Oh dear. How had she come to this?
The smoke smelled rubbery.
If the inquisition came, Chlora would
just quote Sojourner Truth, who said that
Truth burns up error.
Chlora fanned the flames
and sprayed the room
with pine-scented air freshener.
Then she had the urge to wait,
even though Advent was now over.
Chlora propped up her feet
on the hearth and watched the fire.
The burning things shifted and settled.
They lost their specific identities
and became part of the whole.
The wooden train tumbled off a log
and spilled its contents.
Were they being purified by fire?
Heaven knows that training bra
needed to be.
Occasionally a fiery ember
tumbled off the shrinking pile
and threatened to roll beyond the andirons.
The Mourners should've been goalies
to catch random embers,
but they just stood there
silhouetted by the glow, ignoring
all else while they grieved for eternity.
Eternity might be far out there in the future,
or it might be right now. However, it was
pretty much guaranteed by all
the calendars that a New Year
would arrive soon.
Chlora's mind wandered.
What does eternity do to time?
Compress it, wrinkle it, extend it?
Whatever, eternity wouldn’t be linear,
as in time marching in a straight line
around a tomb, checking off one
new year after another.
And right now, right here,
it was Christmas.
Christmas, when eternity enters
smack into history.
The preacher on Christmas Eve
called this historical interruption
God rearranged the molecules of time
and matter. It sounded like physics
and Chlora had to look it up the word
incarnation in the dictionary.
Incarnation has to do with the physical
which isn't the opposite of spiritual.
And it particularly deals with embodiment,
that is, bodies of human beings.
Chlora used to think we were human beans,
but a being is something more abstract,
spiritual even, and a being is not a doing.
Now if God took on flesh,
and God is love, then love was
So then the abstract God became
more than spiritual; it was divine love itself,
located in a human body.
And that body got born and got named
Baby Jesus. That one body had a
much better spirit than ours possess,
but at least we could identify with it
and maybe get some good tips
for living well. Hmmm.
So God got himself incarnated
and at the other end, he got killed.
That is where the mourners
come into the picture.
So love got killed.
The fire teaches that it all just
changes form, with a release of energy.
So love died, and then love
rose up like a phoenix
and became a force of spirit, a holy awe.
Did that mean the Holy Spirit is a gas?
This was confusing as transubstantiation.
Right then Chlora caught
another whiff of rubber
as a bra strap went up in flames.
It was being transformed all right,
but its matter was becoming
more of a bad smell than a spirit.
As everybody who has gotten too close
to the fireplace knows,
every fire has two sides.
The warmth felt good
but in an instant, too much of it hurt.
If you hold your feet to the fire
you might get something accomplished
or you might singe your socks.
Fire is comforting when it is contained,
and helpful when it is controlled
but otherwise you've got a quick spreading
problem worse than gossip in a small town.
Chlora wondered which type of fire
God was—the destroyer, the purifier,
the heart-warmer, the life-saver?
Perhaps God is not binary.
Most things and concepts have
good and bad qualities, she figured.
Absence makes the heart grow fonder,
it also can cause acute loneliness.
Presence can be fulfilling
and it can also be domineering.
Christmas is wonderful but
the other shoe will drop later,
as in the Massacre of the Innocents.
We can have a burning desire to do good
or use that creative energy to destroy.
Are presence and absence
just a matter of perception?
The fire looked rather sad.
Chlora thought of the absence depicted
in the toy train, now incinerated.
One car had that forlorn absinthe drinker
who was probably depressed because
Christmas was over.
Another car held onto that picture
of the crucifixion where the whole crowd
just left Jesus hanging there.
Why hast thou forsaken me?
On the ends of the train,
to bracket the absence,
had been a picture of a locomotive
puffing into a majestic station,
and a chariot of fire uplifting
the lowly caboose.
Both of those evoked presence,
but now they were gone.
Maybe absence becomes
the greatest presence,
as poets know when they leave a pause.
Or, maybe the absence itself becomes
the norm, like with the Venus de Milo,
who'd look out of balance
if her missing arms grew back in.
The preacher had said the purpose
of our existence is to enhance the sense
of divine presence,
not to just evoke absence.
So how do you do that?
Presence doesn't have to be invoked;
it is there already. But it has to be noticed,
recalled in moments where divisions dissolve
and unification appears, where reconciliation
and healing happen, when some sense of
destiny is fulfilled.
Maybe we just have to surrender to presence.
Waving a white flag of surrender
was not Chlora's usual modus operandi.
How did anybody surrender unless
they had to?
Did the Mourners have any other choice?
Could they have chosen not to grieve?
Perhaps, if they were just being paid
to look sorrowful and didn't really feel
any sadness whatsoever for the dead duke.
The logs got settled and then they shifted,
sending up embers that dissipated
as soon as they sparked.
The mourners got too warm and
unleashed their sad song
about the hell those Gothics invented.
But between them, clear as a bell,
rose a small chorus of pent-up joy.
In a sudden charge of energy,
little fire-bearing figures leapt
between the logs.
Three little figures waved at Chlora
and chimed out their catchy Hebrew names—
Shadrack, Meshach, and Abidengo,
that trio of young guys who got thrown
into a fiery furnace because they
refused to worship the king’s idol.
They wore short tunics,
Tights, and top knot hats.
Were they Christmas elves?
No, they seemed to be beckoning
Chlora, their hands confidently raised up
while flames licked their feet.
She knew their story, that they were not
consumed by the fire because
a fourth presence protected them.
Some called it an angel, a spirit,
or Jesus himself, even though it was
in the Old Testament. Why not?
It was Emmanuel, God with us,
like promised at the
end of Matthew's gospel:
Lo, I am with you always,
even to the end of the world.
The trio stood right in the fire singing
the hopes and fears of all the years
are met in thee tonight.
Chlora stared into the fire for a long time.
All the logs but the front one burned down.
The embers glowed as if they
had allowed themselves
to be overcome by awe.
Chlora touched her warm face.
She was so happy, she smiled wide enough
to make her cheeks ache.
A sense of wholeness overcame
the world beyond the living room
as the door cracked open.
J.P. wandered in carrying a large basket.
Here, I brought you another log.
Really just a crooked little branch.
He wore his footie Christmas pajamas
He lay down beside Chlora
and propped up his feet on the hearth
just like she did. She ignored him.
J.P. had just learned to whistle
and he was onto
O Come O Come Emmanuel.
Chlora didn't really want
to deal with him right now.
She added the stick
and stirred up the embers.
She told him his plastic slipper feet
would melt if he stayed there very long.
J.P. jerked back and spilled out
his basket of Legos.
Chlora, can you help me build a better Jesus?
Let's try one without all the clutter.
Baby Jesus doesn't need
all that stuff added on.
The belly of the fiery furnace rumbled,
ready for more.