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Twelve Jesus Night-Lights
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Ian is eight and he and I are ordering our Christmas presents
  out of a catalog that specializes in products
like whoopee cushions, X-ray glasses, and plastic boutonnieres
  that squirt water, so he is scrutinizing every page,
and like the well-meaning but ineffectual stepmother that I am,
  I say, “What about the Groucho glasses?”
but he doesn’t know who Groucho is, and even if he did,
  his friends wouldn’t know, but they’ll love the fake
dog turds, so he orders three of them, a severed hand,
  itch powder, and six whoopee cushions,
which in my limited role in the land of children I have given
  to delighted boys ages six to ten, like Erin’s son Jude
who said he loved his so much he hugged it and made himself fart,
  and Ian is eyeing the plastic rats, which embody an evil
so profound that I shiver as if Satan himself had appeared
  from the depths of the earth and skittered
across the night street, and once again I curse my parents
  for instilling in me this implacable obsession
with good and evil, but I’ve ordered twelve Jesus night-lights
  for my apostate friends this Christmas,
and since they don’t come with light bulbs, I’ve decided
  to buy red ones, which are easy to come by
since ’tis the season, deck the halls, fa-la-la-la-la, and Ian asks
  about the dribble glass, which has tiny holes
in a decorative border at the top, and I say, “Why not?”
  though years later when David and I are in London
for the semester, Morris the biologist who rents our house
  calls in the middle of the night to complain
about the glass, which Ian hid long ago among the regular glasses,
  and Morris says, “I thought I was having a stroke,”
which when I tell Ian, he doesn’t laugh because he is grown-up
  and serious now and not that eight-year-old boy
who put the dribble glass with the others, and God knows
  it’s hard to keep that boy alive inside you,
especially when you start counting misdemeanors committed
  against you not to mention the felonies,
and by the time you realize how difficult it is to be a human being,
  emphasis on the word human , the people you blame
are dead or are so old and broken-down there’s no point in it,
  because there’s something bigger going on,
and yeah yeah yeah I’m back to that old fight to the death
  between good and evil, and I remember Cathy telling me
Tibetan Buddhists believe that things are a mess here on earth
  because the gods are involved in an even bigger Armageddon
in heaven right now, so you can see how Hitler, Stalin, and Pol Pot
  were able to set up their camps and gulags and killing fields,
but since I don’t believe in the gods, I have to concentrate
  on my own little battlefield inside, so I pray
to my Jesus night-light: O little plastic Lord of the crimson four-watt bulb,
  give me some X-ray glasses so I can see through
the three-ply cashmere and Egyptian cotton shirts to the real person,
  not so much naked as covered with skin;
O give me a Magic 8 Ball, so I might have some direction,
  even if it’s only “Not now” or “Take a hike,”
because life will place real turds on the sidewalk as you stroll along
  looking up at the cloudless turquoise sky, and your shoes
will smell even when you wash them off with the garden hose,
  because somewhere in this world men and women
are having their hands severed for stealing a loaf of bread
  so their children won’t starve, and rats are scurrying in sewers,
so let me raise the dribble glass to my lips, drink deep, and count
  the overflow as a blessing, because more than anything
I want to be in on the joke, even if the joke’s on me.

Barbara Hamby  

Barbara Hamby is the author of four books of poems, most recently Babel and All-Night...

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