A Christmas Cadence

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Something in me always wants to disrupt the facade of cheer in the Christmas season. My emotions during this time of year have rarely allowed the heights of merry that seem to surround me.

It’s not as if I don’t enjoy Christmas - this year I even put up a Christmas tree in November and have listened to my fair share of Sufjan Steven’s Christmas Album. I have no desire to erode the happiness that some folks seems to find in the holly and lights, but I do find the intolerance for the breadth of human emotion at this time of year irritating.

So my Christmas poems are meant for you who wake up Christmas morning thinking of loved one’s passed, and you for whom going home is not a happy affair, for you who have no home to go to, and for you who wonder what hope a baby can possibly bring. For you who find this to be the least wonderful time of the year, and for those who can seem to meet the expectations that surround you. These are for you.

Caution Tape (2018)

My holidays are always wrapped in caution tape
tied in casual knots at my foundations.
With a bow —
warning that December darkness
carries with it a weight that 
rests in my bones like 
the chill that shakes them.

In the wait of advent
I notice this familiar heaviness,
this somber song 
discordant with the merriment
striving to find its cadence
with the holly and holy night. 

Longing to be held 
in a bigger story
characterized by hope
and compassion
and the radical disruption 
of the injustice that
binds us and 
restores these broken pieces
we have made for each other
to a whole.

For us who are still eulogizing,
sometimes the sleigh bells
and the stockings seem to 
rush us too quickly forward
too soon to fill our voids
with songs of Christmas joy:
yearning and mourning for a time
beyond too soon. 

And as our wrinkles appear —
the laugh lines and worry creases —
we drift back to the knowledge of
our longing to be held:
orphans wrapped in the arms
of some familiar saviour,
hoping that this might just
be the one. 

I find myself, more than ever,
in need of a Saviour.
And more than ever, 
yearning for the hope
that this child is said to bring. 

Resolving not some biting shame
but proving my persistent hope
is not some vain imagining.
That good news is the song 
of this bigger story
that sun will breath life
once again. 

And so, my hope,
as my holidays,
are wrapped in caution tape.
If only to hold 
its broken pieces together,
crying out for some lowly babe
to mend it 
with his tears.

The Coffee Maker (2017)

The coffee maker stopped working
and we were left wondering 
how you celebrate Christmas day without
coffee and baileys. 

For us, coffee is a sacred ritual
     a routine that binds us 
with perfectly soaked grounds
and radiant ceramic that warms something 
beneath your skin. 

A coffee-less Christmas, then, 
would mark a holiday apart,
      missing something,

Before the problem solving brain
had time to intervene, 
one without, caffeinated the other
and the loss of one sacred ritual
highlighted another gained:
a funeral,
a celebration of life
a life lost to us - 
     missing something.

Watching your father wash away
in blood and saline
chemo and fentanyl 
over eight months until
the man you knew, 
who loved you well, 
with whom you fought and cried,
is watered down like 
oversaturated coffee…
kissing the tepid forehead 
of this once-father
still father anew
fucks you up:

Like losing a two months
of memories 
with the exception of
a broken coffee maker
a broken family 

Each year I find myself
deepening into advent
into messy, desperate longing
for hope
for home
for warmth that soothes something
      beneath my skin
for living water that might
      soothe my caffeine cravings for not yet.

Though it may seem that we are dwelling in grief
you’ve seen nothing but the foyer.
Grief made a home amongst us -
as tangible as the coarse branches of your PVC
Christmas tree on soft skin. 

You are welcome here,
     come in.
Just know that we are still learning
how to fit 
the fragments of grief 
     between the trimmings,
finding room for it 
     at the table,
shifting storage
to stow away the boxes
still to be unpacked
       contents unknown
or known too well. 

There is now a new coffee maker - 
one sacred ritual renewed,
under new management. 
The taste is different
yet there we gather as a new family - 
one with an empty chair
        a lit candle, 
and a now familiar weight. 

And now I rest into advent
and the sounds of Julien Baker:
     “Maybe it's all gonna turn out all right
      And I know that it's not, 
      but I have to believe that it is.”
desperate longing
stubborn hope
a joy beyond cheer
a visceral Immanuel declaration. 

“Can I get something started for you?” (2016)

Next time you order your
tall in a grande cup
triple shot half sweet
extra whip kids temp
cinnamon dolce latte, 
remember that your barista 
can be dismissed if the tips
of his lips don’t curve upward
at frequent enough intervals. 

Preferably, they should be fixed
in that position, especially
when paired with an eye-twinkle
and a vocal timbre and rhythm 
matching the sleigh bells
ringing from the strategically 
placed noise-boxes hidden yet present, 
in the dark corners of this cheery facade. 

I am told that I don’t like Christmas. 
Now, tipping over Christmas trees isn’t exactly a past-time
but I do avoid shopping malls, 
and while you’ll undoubtedly hear me 
mindlessly humming a cheery ditty about
attempted date rape 
that somehow comes round every yea
I find it a challenge to muster the enthusiasm 
to match this spectacle of lights. 

I resonate much more with the desperate longing of advent
that nauseous emptiness caused by 
the absence of a warm forehead
on which my cracked lips may lay a kiss
of childish affection 
for a pathetically masculine
form of unrequested
not unrequited adoration. 

If grief is love with nowhere to rest
then in these bejewelled nights
I twitch and twist
with endless convulsion:
the unbridled joy of the season
accenting the peaks of my agitation. 

In the troughs I ponder a birth:
the strident promenade of the climactic protagonist
of this falsely quaint epic. 
Here too ruminates a desperate longing
tinted with a stubborn hope
of already
with an inky not-yet.

This plot sadistically weaves
a father pained and emaciated
by a cancerous orgy 
with a saviour delivered
with placenta and blood
into hay and dirt
and love. 

How might the hope of the world
and the resolution of my grief
rest in this baby who would
scandalize our most-stubborn

And how liberating: to rest my love
in a deity who holds 
my grief, my hope, my pain, and my faith
without expecting unerring enthusiasm
for your gaudy tinsel 
your clearcut pines, 
your upward-curved lipped, 
twinkle-eyed peppermint mocha, 
with dark-chocolate sprinkles. 
“Can I get something started for you?”

Bloated with Holiday Cheer (2015)

Is emptiness really the right word?
isn’t it more likely an over-fullness
a forced bloatedness
that carries with it the terrifying proposition that it might explode at any
that it will burst 
and with that dispersion lose your last defence

and with this bursting comes a flow of emotion 
that doesn’t fit with the time of year but does with the patterns of light
the season calls for cheer and joy
and the light calls for darkness and retreat
it is the fullness of this paradox that packs every crevice of your composure
with too many baked goods
too many false hopes
too many strained cheery grins
all the while your lonely self feels crowded, and uncomfortable
ready to arm itself with the fiery ax to sever those pieces of flesh filled with
sugar and spice

at some point you feels so full, so bloated that you must retreat back to the
the couch
that book
to cancel a holiday plan and turn inward
carve out space for the loneliness
and the guilt 
for the loneliness
in this time of cheer
and you begin to ask why you feel so empty

isn’t it more that the spaces between you and others
is significantly bloated
with expectations of joy
and so you try to rise to the occasion to fill your share of the space
to stuff every inch full of tinsel and lights and songs in such a way that
saturates your emptiness with the fullness of the holidays

as a mirror simultaneously compliments and criticizes
so does this fullness
you yearn for that satisfactory full contentment that calls for an afternoon
and somehow you missed the fullness cue and went too far
you were led into that fullness that causes an unfamiliar ache
reminding you of the visceral hunger that plagues you persistently
in the non-holly-days. the day days. 
and you spite at the holidays then
they shape you into something you avoid
with skill
year round outside of these days
these happy days
these holly days
bloated and uncomfortable i stew under the mistletoe
loathing the burst that’s sure to come and its origin in these dark days. 


Eric Van Giessen

Eric (he/him) is the Editor of the Queerly Faithful Project. Learn more about him here.