Wed | Jan 20, 2021

Celebrating Christmas – with love from New Zealand

Published:Sunday | December 20, 2020 | 12:18 AM
Pohutukawa Cornwallis
Pohutukawa Cornwallis
Christmas pudding with custard.
Christmas pudding with custard.
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Welcome to the second instalment of this special Christmas edition. The lines below from poets in Jamaica and New Zealand reflect the climatic similarities between both countries, throwing up hardy plants for the season – the red-blossoming pohutukawa for New Zealand, as Riddell indicates, and the also red-blossoming poinsettia for Jamaica, as Graham indicates. They also reflect that eternal desire to document and communicate the impact of shared experiences, reflecting the dialogue between the personal and universal. Happy reading. – Ann-Margaret Lim

Christmas in the South

Shadows, blue shadows and dry summer grass

red Christmas flowers, bright Christmas light …

In sweltering heat, I walk the boys

and one of them falls asleep

without his supper or his treats.

A pity, says his mother

Christmas is so different here …

leaves dance in advent haze

in the north the snow falls deep

we’ll go to the beach on Christmas Day

swim in the surf, play in the sand

eat our picnic in the shade

pohutukawa in full blossom

the children bathed in light

Ron Riddell (Auckland, New Zealand) from his collected poems

1982 – 2020.

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December ‘20

The Bethlehem star’s return this solstice

augured something auspicious but it was

the breeze that truly heralded the season.

A brisk balm in a too fast, too slow year when

we were desperate for the comfort of custom.

Because in spite of everything

who would dare cancel Christmas?

So Santa’s been declared an essential worker,

free as the market to play up social inequity

and Christmas “bubbles” were encouraged,

though baubles would be more prudent,

But one couldn’t deny there was something

in the air. Our PM informed: we expect

many flights, we expect a spike.

And whether we considered the restrictions

too little or too much was a hard thing

to pass judgement about after a year like this.

Whatever we decided to do, or not,

the solstice was busy

stretching out sunsets,

and in this of all years,

the Bethlehem star came back,

stealing the show from the tree-toppers,

mocking, affirming our pagan pageantry,

for this auspicious alignment moves us

to look up and consider

the reflection of the son.

– Rhea Manley (Jamaica)

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Tilt

year’s end flurry, all a whirl,

weight of months, slurry sigh,

weary the many feet, hearts, minds,

yet still that story, burning light,

new life, hope, the Christ child.

– Sam Clements (New Zealand)

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Christmas pudding

I didn’t have a child’s heart, I swear. Each year

as Christmas drew near I drew further into myself

wanting to creep into the huge old ceramic jar

on the shelf and drown in the aroma of pimento

and clove and dried fruit marinating in rum.

Wishing Christmas would never come.

But Christmas came alright and the one part I liked

was the making of Christmas pudding.

It started on the day they took that jar from the shelf,

bustled around to fire up the Caledonia Dover

wood-burning stove, grease the cake tins

rub up the sugar and butter in the mixing bowls

throw the sifted flour and the beaten eggs

and the orange peel and the candied citron

and the rose water and vanilla essence and

the whole jar of drunken fruit in.

The puddings couldn’t wait for the date, the 25th,

O no, the cooks wouldn’t hear of it. Christmas

Puddings have to be baked or steamed at least two

weeks before the event. Then, quietly sitting

in their tins, soaked again in good overproof rum.

THAT’S THE LAW. At least of pudding-shaped

cooks who would never go around arresting drunken

men for imbibing too much of their Christmas pudding.

O no. Not content with that alcoholic haze, on the day

they add brandy to the pudding and set light to it. I swear!

And I know swearing is a bad habit. But it’s not

my fault. It came from lifting the lid of that old

crock and inhaling even before the cooks got hold of

that rum-soaked fruit each year and drowned it.

– Olive Senior (Jamaican in Canada)

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Balancing act

I sip the skin off warm Milo

and watch the freckled surface break.

I clutch at its edge with my lips

to steady the drifting

and open my nostrils to the warmth

of poinsettias pale and half bleeding.

A solitary tentacle stretches toward my cheek.

Once your starapple colour:

The day is sliced open,

the sky is mauve-bellied, and the air

clots. Reluctant to move, I dangle

in this moment, ornament in December.

– Millicent A. A. Graham (Jamaican) The Damp in Things: Pepal Tree Press:2009

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“He said No to something or other.”

I laughed.

You have to laugh at Christmas

My Mum won’t be there

Last night I had a dream and yelled,

“Can’t you come back!”

She replied from the depths of my dreamworld,

“No I can’t!” and disappeared.

She used to burn chickens

And cry about not being

In Berkshire, Cookham Dean Bottom, it is.

She disappeared at 20 after giving birth

And having her child taken from

A brutal environment –

life often being brutal to Women

But yet, I remember when she gave birth

To one of my sisters

At 18 months I held my dad’s huge hands

And wore my Ladybird dress, ladybird buttons,

I remember her holding my baby sister

For us to see.

So this is Christmas

There is no burnt chicken.

There is no crying, yet there is a hole

Where a terrifying Mother was.

Involvement with her meant internal sacrifice,

No privacy, and being scared of Men.

– Kate Kelly (New Zealand)

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Christmas evening

And what did the holy family see

as they huddled around the hearth

and watched the embers send sparks,

ephemeral as our bodies born from desire,

into the sky, like those myriad angels

who came to witness the moment,

to guard the miracle of God made flesh

and join the shepherd’s voices,

a heavenly and human chorus, one song,

that rejoiced at the foot of another hill,

at another time, no longer afraid?

Joseph looked down at his son,

wriggling in the blankets. The dream

had been true - it had to be this way.

Mary held the child away

from the noise of the stable,

for there had been prophecies

about suffering. But until then,

she’d hug him, love him, and savour

the day of rest promised

by his birth, destined to bring shalom.

Joseph still couldn’t understand

what the mystery was all about.

He’d been there when the contractions

shook her small frame, when she wailed,

and dug her fingers into his arm — called out

his name, then her water broke.

He slept beside her on the straw, waited for hours

until the screaming child came into the world,

gazed deep into his eyes, then placed him

between his mother’s breasts, soothing

his cries, and while she was falling

asleep, cleaned them up, cut the cord.

Now there were strangers from all over

the countryside coming into the cave

filling the air with more raw animal smells,

shepherds, sinners, and other neer-do-wells,

who were either drunk or mad,

claiming they’d seen visions

of heavenly hosts of angels, bright

as the moon over the Sea of Galilee.

Joseph shook his head, rocked the manger,

still waiting for the miracle that he’d been promised

when God held his finger and gurgled.

– Geoffrey Philp (Jamaican in the US): Twelve Poems and a Story for Christmas: iUniverse:2005