Begging letters

Begging letters

Dear Nicholas,

How are you?

It’s a long time since I wrote.
You see, I’ve wanted for nothing
Since you last received my note.
I’d like to think I’ve been good in the interim,
Although, it’s harder to be sensitive
When insensible of an incentive.
And, while I know that if I find myself drowning
I might want to learn how to swim,
When I know I’m already on land I could never
Persuade myself to row.
So, I have not murdered, or lied,
Or coveted anyone else’s wives,
Or taken any more than I was willing to give,
Or knowingly suffered one whom I suspected
Of being a witch to live,

But I have asked questions,
And I haven’t always liked the replies.
You wouldn’t like them either, Nicholas;
You wouldn’t believe your eyes
If I showed you, for instance,
That your red coat used to be green
Before some puckish person’s penmanship
On the cover of a magazine
Delivered you to Atlanta
To a soft-drinks manufacturer,
Forevermore to be seen
On the side of a lorry, with a bottle in hand,
And a somehow-unhealthy sheen.

Or if I showed you of yestercentury,
When your job was done by another:
A sky god like he who you now represent
But married to our old earth mother;
Did you crawl from the ashes of the Yule Goat,
Or sail here in a steamer from Spain?
Did you fall from the heavens in the wildest hunt
Or walk over the Great European Plain?

And are you still the patron of prostitutes?
So many questions, forgive me, dear Nick;
It’s just that I hear all these conflicting messages
And wonder at the length of your wick.

Would you believe me if I told you
That the whole concept of sainthood began
Only to serve the multifaceted needs
Of polytheistic man?
What would Jesus make of it all, do you think?
Do you mind that I ask you that?
How would he feel, do you suppose,
That the empire he fought to the death against
Became the empire he begat,
Which took his death
And fetishized it
In execution-chic giftshop tat?

Zion’s still waiting,
Sore bear at the bee hive,
For something holy to arrive,
For something holy to arrive
For the first time.

Oh, Nicholas, I never believed in you.
At least not in the sense that you needed me to.
Perhaps you’d have seemed more plausible
If we’d imported Krampus too
And been threatened with more than empty stockings
If we didn’t do what we were told –
Let blood and bones and entrails replace
Our frankincense, myrrh and gold –
But the Disneyfication of our mythology extends
To the bible and beyond, including folk tales and legends;
It’s a Wonderful Life followed on from A Christmas Carol,
And the suicide rate rockets annually
As you roll out the barrel.

Oh, we’re letting the Africans know
That we’re dreaming of seasonal snow;
That we’re missing sales targets
At faux farmers’ markets;
And now, it’s beginning to show.

With tear-glazed eyes we expect
Something holy, something holy;
We, our lives the size of insects,
Inspect every text that survives
For words long, long ago prophesized
And await, like the spiders the flies,
That something holy, which must arrive;
Something holy must arrive,
Soon, sometime.

Dear Nicholas,

They say it all came from Hydrogen
And I’m stuck for a contrasting explanation.
I feel sick as they insist that nothing holy can exist;
Well, how can that be true if I am writing to you?
I’m told you’re not real and asked if I feel okay.
And I did, until I lost the brief belief I entertained as a kid
That the gist if not the grist of every Christmas list
Had a hope of being met by you and the hired help you enlist;
Weren’t you some kind of superman like Moses or Mohammed
Who could see the potential in all of us:
The collateral in the damage?

If there’s no hell for Christopher Hitchens,
Will your elves carve a coffin he’ll fit in?
If there’s no heaven for Mother Teresa,
Must I dig up her bones now to meet her?

You seemed a reasonable compromise,
That promised a measure of clarity;
That wove a satisfactory mystery
Between the history of barbarity
And the barbarity of history.

But to me you just weren’t compatible;
Where were you at the nativity?
You’re a marketing power tool that got out of hand,
Something serious come of levity;
An accidental brand.

Like Saint Valentine before,
You have a lot to answer for.
You’re an icon of berries and stuffing,
To the joy of getting something for nothing,
And the hope perhaps that if we play our roles
In a pantomime riddled with plot-holes
We’ll be rewarded as we strive
And something holy will arrive
Something holy will arrive
In the half-time;
To legitimize our lives
That something holy will arrive
For the first time.

This is my plea, then, Nicholas;
At this cue, which I now give to you,
Please would you give me a clue;

What should I tell my daughter, dear Nicholas?
What should I tell her about you?
We don’t keep a working chimney, you know,
And we never saw reindeer that flew.

What should I tell my daughter, dear Nicholas?
What should I tell her if she asks?
Should I let a story get in the way of the truth,
Though it’s uglier than that which it masks?

What should I tell little Sybil, dear Nicholas?
What should I tell her about you?
What if she enquires as to your ethnicity?
Are you German, Turk, American, Saami or Jew?

Shall I tell her on Christmas eve, dear Nicholas,
As we put out your milk and mince pies,
To keep an eye on the sky –
Half-blind with lightyears of lies –
And to wait for something holy to arrive?

Shall I tell her come yuletide you’ll ride overhead,
Like Odin before, and leave coins in the shoes or the socks
That she’ll place at the end of her bed?

Or shall I tell her not to listen, not to fill her head
With the silly stories of the other stupid children
Who mention you, by any name?

Shall I tell her the history and cut out the mystery;
Throw Zwarte Piet and Rudolph out with our dead Christmas tree?
Wouldn’t that be quite a shame?

Could you advise me, dear Nicholas?
I need someone to blame.
Could you help me?

Yours faithfully,

A. S. H. Velky


Appears in:
Rhymes for all times [2015]

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