Bud Hayes was a good and thoughtful man, who wrote poetry and even a novel, but never published any of it. He died a couple weeks ago. I want to share some of his work with you. This poem may not seem like it’s in the Christmas spirit. I post it, because I am aware of a lot of people for whom Christmas is the worst time of the year—at least at this point in their lives—because they’ve recently lost someone they loved or once loved through death, divorce, moving away or estrangement.
Sooner or later all the wounds and haunted memories
Will come to call,
Like old friends, or visitation ministers.
“We thought we would spend a little time with you,” they seem to say,
“See what kind of a day you’re having.”
I am careful to show no hospitality.
I remain seated, stiff, distant and resigned, muttering under my breath,
“I thought I left you a long time ago.
In this modern age we put our pain behind us and move on.”
In seats in which I have not invited them to sit,
They shift uneasily, smile sadly and wait.
Presently they do take their departure,
And I am free to go about my business for awhile,
But I know they will be back.
The rhythms by which they come and go are unknown to me.
I know it would be folly for me to send them away,
They have visitation rights, you know.
Far better for me to acknowledge that,
Invite them in, chat a bit, offer them some tea,
Admit they are a part of me.
I wonder whether I should invite other guests as well,
Perhaps that ubiquitous handy person of the modern age called self esteem,
Or allies of one sort or another, unfamiliar with the full tapestry of damage,
Willing to give me the benefit of the doubt, to overlook,
To go on loving in the face of all life’s irreversibles.
But try as I might to mobilize support,
My hosting of these unwanted guests is a treacherous and lonely task.
They arrive unannounced in the middle of the night,
Or show up at inopportune moments,
When I am least prepared to deal with them.
They talk to one another and build a case against me.
I contemplate despair.
And then I think of that ancient psalm,
With its quaint language and lavish consolations:
“Thou preparest a table before me, in the presence of my enemies,
Thou anointest my head with oil, my cup runneth over.”
And I weep for joy.