A Strange Christmas Walk

A Strange Christmas Walk, new poem by Greg Powell

A Strange Christmas Walk

shivering sun rushes to horizon
beneath gray sky as I commence
December family ritual of lights
wrapped around front yard trees
barren except for winter seed
dropping into damp soil bearing
spring hopes and earth promises.
green lights wrapped on trunk
white strings hung on branches,
in conformity with silly esthetics
of holiday suburban blocks.
wireless speaker serenading yard
with tunes of Yuletide cheer,
wife and kids with caroling
to crooners and soloing jazz elfs,
Christmas cheer and nostalgia vibes
fill air as sun slips underground.
we rake leaves and wrap lights
press lightbulb freckled figurines
of snowmen and soldiers and abstract
nativity and projectors spiked
into soft lawn. then the criss-crossing
of camouflage green power cords
in electric maze, a spaghetti grid all
leading to one cord into socket
and then done,
as sun burrows into earth. in the new
night I admire parade of trees lining
quiet street, bedecked in luminous green
branch-pants and white lit blouse
wrapped branches, marching before
spectacle: houses of the marginally
privileged, blinking and winking
electric colors radiating through
fragile glass blubs, a locust swarm
of rainbow lights. I decide in force
of whim to take walk through
festive empty dark damp sidewalks,
walk in space of my thoughts,
giving thanks and praise for seasonal
rituals of family and flashing lights,
remembering and communing
with those gone and long gone
with us always time beyond time,
walking to breathe out daily stress
breathing into rhythm of stepping feet.
cloud fissures open sky to shine
cosmic Christmas lights that twinkle
a million years’ time beyond time,
to visit this poor shepherd and
royal star gazer with visions
of new-born King.
walking in reverie
of wife growing deeper into our love
and sons growing like trees into men
and my soul growing deep as buried sun
in the twinkle of an eye
sudden interruption of holy reverie
flash of blinding blue lights screeching
and screaming siren behind me now another
screeching around corner siren screaming
to impede my steps. hands autonomically
rise in surrender to undeclared war.
invasion of colonial lights through peaceful
village in my skull. I stop stepping and
undetectably tremble. heart speeds warning
to blood. I hear voice of Grandma Veessa
saying please Lord deliver from all hurt
harm and danger but the Lord don’t
protect us that way. I hear voice
of great-uncle Jimme Lee lynched
in uniform/ burned in uniform
through clenched teeth screams saying
if you gonna die/ die a man
and take a cracker with you before
dissipating back to flames flashing
like red and blue lights/ screaming
sirens. I hear Martin-
I speak to him and Malcolm and Garvey
Whitney Young and Adam
Ida B and Sojourner/ and Pa Pa Langston,
I speak to Harriet’s gun and Nat’s
pickaxe often on these walks-
who sat still and calm after crazy ass lady
stabbed him in chest years before
he went to mountaintop
and they blew off his face
say Poet be cool
be still and get back to your family
I hear momma…now I lay me
Down to sleep
I pray the Lord
My soul to keep/ if I should die
Before I wake/ I pray the Lord
My soul to take…but,
what if I die before I sleep…
and so I breathe deep, lift hands high
like worshipping baby Jesus;
no, officer I don’t have my papers
live around the corner
just out for a walk
in my neighborhood
in my country
built on my forebears whip scarred backs…
fingers grow numb from cold
of wind and officer’s terrified eyes;
I seen that terror before,
on red splotched Chicago beach
in 1919 looking down at black boy’s body
underwater staring with executed eyes;
I seen that terror before
back in New York days leading
seventh grade class in formation
to United Nations/ dressed in blazer
and tie/ full armor of conformity
when prim lady in business suit
upon seeing approaching hoard
of wilding Black and Brown children
and criminally minded Black
seventh grade urban menacing teacher
leading children in formation,
clutches briefcase and runs
to other side of street.

hand grows numb in cold chill
officer I am unarmed/ hands cold,
just trying to get back home
to my family
placing them in pocket
so my fingers don’t freeze…
first bullet I don’t even feel
God’s mercy shields pain
from hot tunnel ripped through flesh
bullets like lynchers don’t come by ones
they don’t come by twos:
they come by tens…
finger snaps nasty red and gray
lung deflates
I don’t feel skull hole
I feel skull bouncing on concrete
like basketball dribbled with sons
around the corner in driveway of home
we built in country we built
luminous in lovely Christmas lights

I hear the voice of Harriet’s gun
Say: steal away
steal away
steal away to Jesus
you ain’t got much time...
so I get up and walk
past clashing lights
of police state Christmas
for Colored people only
walk until footprints
of my own blood, fade
to nothing/ beyond screaming
lights and sirens and regretful cop eyes
walk into silence
infiltrated with faint tones of music
to come. I walk weeping wife’s,
son’s, ancestors…my people’s tears,
unable to scream because I am dead
I walk to light, ancient light
that once beaconed Magi and poor shepherds,
dim distant star/ long walk, so far to go,
to join momma, voice an echo in night,
say it with me child:
If I should die
Before I sleep
I pray the Lord
My soul to keep…

If you've enjoyed this poem, you may want to read The Christmas Tree