I remember sitting on his bony lap,
fake beard slumping off his face,
his breath reeking sweetly of alcohol,
a scent I didn't yet know at five.
And I didn't know that Santa
was supposed to be fat, white, merry—
not shaky and thin like this
department store Santa who listened
as I reeled off that year's list:
a child's oven I'd burn my fingers on,
a mini record player of gaudy plastic
I'd drag from room to room
by its precarious orange handle,
an Etch-a-Sketch I'd ruin by twisting
its dials too hard—my requests
as solemn as prayer, fervid, fueled
by too many hours of television,
too many commercials filled
with noisy children elated
by the latest game or toy.
I bet none of them
ever sat on the lap of a Santa
who didn't ho-ho-ho in jolly mirth,
whose sunken red eyes peered
out from under his oversized wig
and red velveteen cap, his teeth yellow,
long fingers tinged with yellow.
I did not find it strange
to call this man Santa,
to whisper my childish whispers
into his ear, to pull on his sleeve
to let him know I really deserved
all that I'd asked for. I posed
for an instant photo with him,
a woolen cap over my crooked braids,
mittens sewn to my coat sleeves.
No one could have convinced me
this Santa couldn't slide down
any chimney, though his belly
didn't fill his suit, and his hands
trembled, just a bit, as he lifted
me from his lap. No one could
have told me that a pink-cheeked
pale-skinned Santa was the only Santa
to worship, to beg for toys and candy.
I wouldn't have believed them,
wouldn't have believed anyone
who'd tell me Santa couldn't look
like me: brown eyes, face, skin.
What good are notebooks?
—Talking Heads, "Life During Wartime"
I crave them as if craving something carnal,
blankness of pages erotic, clean with sensual
possibilities and ready to be dampened
by my insistent ink, swirls of language
made plain on thin blue lines taut
as tightrope. I collect them like other women
collect shoes or boyfriends, fingering pristine
pages while standing hushed in aisles
of bookstores and stationery shops,
stroking plush-covered ones with a single
finger, loving floral-print ones more
than actual flowers, needing another and
another until my house is overrun
with them, and they start arranging
cocktail hours and support groups—
for the ones I have not written in
grow lonely, and the ones managing
the burden of my desperate handwriting
need someone to talk to, peers to confide in
about these dog-eared secrets and semi-scribbled
imaginings, covert half-truths, outright lies.
How they congregate around my bed,
waiting for me to pick one up, start
another hazy page of scrawls and arrows,
cross-outs and restarts, confessions
that will never be confessions until
I judge them fit for judgment. Sometimes
when fate has flattened me with its one
hard fist, only the black-and-white
composition notebooks of childhood
will do, marbled covers unchanged
from when I first learned cursive—
one letter reaching for the next
in the crazy tilting of my untested hand.
Only those wide-ruled lines will do,
those patient beginnings.