It is the difference between that present handed to you by a person who says, “It’s only a tie,” and a package under the tree squeezed and prodded at—perhaps a corner loosened or a hole poked in through supposed accidental handling, pondered like a good detective show. Who wants these mysteries revealed before their time? What value in the present whose contents you already know for sure?
The magic of Christmas for some is that faith that the girl, untouched by human lover, gave birth—and it is that sort of faith that “saved” the world. If we knew the whole truth of that story would all it prompted fall into the hole covered all these years by mystery? The whole world seems to be standing more on what we don’t know than on what we absolutely know empirically—what we can prove.
And so I look at the picture of my young mother
in her cotton housedress and saddle shoes
holding her baby in front of her in her stroller,
whole contraption, child and carrier,
a foot or two above the ground,
and there is mystery in the reveal.
I do not hear what transpired to cause this pose––
whether my father caught her carrying me
from the porch to sidewalk and said,
“Here, Tootie, turn around,” and snapped the picture,
or whether my older sister planned the pose.
Perhaps some movie star was snapped in a similar scene
and my mother and sister, like two conspiring fans,
planned the shot to steal the glamor formerly reserved
for “Photoplay” or “Look” or “Life.”
There would be no reel-to-reel
in any normal person’s life for years.
No movie camera to tell me exactly what my mother and I were like
before my memory took hold and even then,
what I remember of childhood is
more like reflections in a lake that color and change
depending on the clouds or rain,
distorting the light like moods.
My Aunt Peggy’s house,
always remembered as feeling like
the color chartreuse,
and I will never know why––
that smell of a friend’s house that became associated
with her memory more than any concrete proof of
the spinning film of a movie projector.
I do not know my mother’s voice at thirty.
I did not witness myself since birth
by either sound or sight.
There is a different mystery
to a past caught
in boxes of Kodacolor prints
curling and yellowing in a closet
than one documented like a science experiment
with every event taped and filmed.
Where does the mystery of you reside when you see yourself
so clearly, as others have seen you all along?
What does it leave for you to try to discover?
No home movies.
All of our pasts were once wrapped up forever
with only our fingers poking in the edges.
Only our voices asking,
“What was it like the day when I was born?”
What do you remember about the day when. . . .?
(This is a rewrite of a poem I wrote three years ago.)