Richard S. Straw
A modern Christmas is the very OPPOSITE of the first Christmas. Poverty and emptiness surrounded Jesus' birth in a stable. It had to be a very miserable experience for him and his parents. Perhaps it symbolized mankind's essential poverty, emptiness, and nothingness. Not so today's artificial, glitzy, frenetic shopping-mall Christmas. — Jerry Gill
over a house
with no Christmas lights
clouds and a star
Half a century ago, the commercialism of a modern Christmas hadn't yet become apparent to my sister and me as youngsters in central Ohio. Our parents, true blue-collars, frugal offspring of the Great Depression, knew about it though. They worked overtime, striving to save what money they could for Christmas gifts while also paying off a mortgage and a car loan. But grocery bills, utility bills, and many, many doctor bills, mostly for mom's undiagnosed MS and later dad's near loss of his right leg after a fall on an I-beam on the factory floor, made that hard to do. Bills, bills, ills... Balancing the checkbook for our mom, a former B.F. Goodrich rubber hose factory laborer and later a General Telephone long-distance operator, must have seemed like a high wire act. In the evening, she'd freeze at the dining table while staring first at a stack of bills and then at the checkbook, a blue ballpoint pen in one hand and under the other an old black-keyed adding machine, a gift from her older brother, a self-employed accountant with a Catholic wife and eight kids.
a winter night
rooms no longer shabby
in the dark
As American Baptists, our parents celebrated Christmas with us, of course, and tried hard not to plunge too far into debt. They sometimes may have spent too much though, especially before my sister and I started to go to school—tricycles, stuffed animals, a kitchen set, toy trucks and cars, dolls, a Civil War set, most of it brought down from the attic, bid on, and sold, along with the house, after our dad died much later. Until then, as we became teenagers, they continued to add to the pile under each year's live Christmas tree—bicycles, wind instruments, new clothes, cameras, backpacks and compasses for scout camps, transistor radios, stamp and coin books, a telescope, matching Sears Dynavox record players with the first Beatles songs on 45s...
Christmas gift tags
where the auction wagon stood
sunlit, trampled yard
Note: The epigraph quotation by Jerry Gill is used with his permission. An earlier version of the first haiku appeared in the Mainichi Daily News on March 3, 2001, p. 9.
"The night, the night alone is old..."
As a family, we liked attending church services and Sunday School all year long. But we loved Christmastime most of all when, instead of just "Onward, Christian Soldiers," "Faith of Our Fathers," and similarly weighty standards from the thick Baptist hymnal, which had no pictures, we'd also sing "Silent Night," "What Child Is This?" and other carols from colorful, hand-sized picture booklets that we got to take home. A fresh pine scent from Christmas wreaths would fill the sanctuary, replacing the sometimes stale smell of a funeral home variety of flowers on each side of the communion table. The old janitor and a gray-haired deacon hung a pine wreath below each stained-glass window and trimmed the balcony above the Wednesday night prayer rooms with branches of fresh-cut pine. One Sunday evening in early December, my sister on her clarinet and I on my trumpet played a Christmas carol medley as the minister's wife at the baby grand guided us through each tune. Only a few worshippers besides our parents sat in the pews on that wintry night.
cold, gray clouds
in a lancet window
a boy in hiding
Note: The title is the first line of the second stanza in Edwin Muir's poem, "Day and Night," in his Collected Poems (New York: Oxford University Press, 1965, pp. 239-240).
Richard S. Straw copyedits technical documents on health and substance use and has lived in or near Raleigh, North Carolina, since 1984. Before then, he lived in central Ohio, where he taught freshman English composition at Ohio State University, edited technical papers for a trade journal, proofread for a digest of news from the former Soviet Union, and graduated from Ohio State University (BA in English, 1977; MA in English, 1980).
In the late 1980s, he edited Pine Needles, a quarterly newsletter for the North Carolina Haiku Society. In 1988, he compiled late afternoon bum, a trifold Haiku Canada Sheet. He self-published in 2001 A Hiker Sees His Shadow, an eight-page haiku sequence dedicated to the memory of his dad. In 2005, he put together another haiku trifold, Opening a Window. In 2009, he printed The Longest Time, a collection of 35 haibun published in haiku and haibun journals between 2006 and 2009.