Ghosts of Christmas Past

In October of 1999, my sister (who also happened to be my roommate) adopted a five-year-old girl from a Bulgarian orphanage. Adopting an older child from a sensory-deprived environment posed challenges beyond our collective imagination. Eight years later, she’s made great strides — thanks to my sister’s diligent work on her behalf. But here’s a remembrance, in three parts, of that first Christmas in America.


Lilly has no use for the rocking chair
A twisted wicker gift for a new mom who missed
the crying infant nights, who missed the

baby clinging to her breast
soft motion massaging wounds
as the sun rose on shattered sleep

Come dusk, Lilly rocks herself,
Forth and back, forth and back forth back
forth toward darkness

Come midnight, Lilly sits on the floor
Letting the motion of her body
Collapse her sleepless form

We cannot touch this rocking
On these nights, she is her own mother
Clinging to the raging in her breast


Children throw tantrums, they tell me
I have entered the cult of motherhood
(close enough) that the women at work
tell me the real story of their children
Santa Claus is a front for Herod’s gifts

So children throw tantrums
So don’t be concerned with Lilly’s screaming
So sometimes children hit and scratch and bite

It’ll get easier when the English comes
It’ll get easier when she gets adjusted
It’ll get easier

Christmas Eve

The first grandchild is a spectacle.
I have planned for this night, have carted in
extra aunts and uncles, grandma and grandpa

We will sing at the piano and tell the old stories
We will melt chocolate and wrap ourselves in worn flannel
Watch lights twirl the walls and become our childhood again

I did not plan this

Middle lane on the Boston belt-loop
I keep one arm wood to the wheel
and I as I breath I sing
(I sing to be able to breath)

Silent Night
Holy night

You shatter in screaming harmony
Scream of being ripped from heaven’s womb
And shred the air with your wet anger

Your balled hands beat the glass until I
let in the icy rush and let you
wrestle the bleak mid-winter let you
wrestle the dark angel

This is hour three.
What is left in your body, babe
On this night, what is left to give?
The orange clouds of the city
block the stars

I don’t know where I’m traveling anymore

And I wrestle with the angel
This, I say, this was not part of the plan
Not tonight, not this way

You are rocking now
The violent motion of impending slumber
The angel answers, So said Joseph.

(But Mary kept all these things and
pondered them in her heart)


  1. I just read these poems, and as the mother of the child in the poems, I was hit with a visceral gut punch, remembering how hard and painful those first few years were. And you shared them all with me…no greater gift have you ever given.

    How far Lilly has come…now a beautiful 13-year-old with a new-found love of hugging mommy. We now get the Christmas you tried to create that first year…it just took 8 years to get there. Eight very tough years. Love you! Sarah

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