A plaster cow and donkey, five sheep, one chipped,
two shepherds chopped from pine, their crooks
twisted oak limbs, the magi garbed in silk ripped
from old scarves. Joseph’s badly faded. Mary looks
downcast with re-painted doll-like eyes. The baby
Jesus is wrapped in cotton swaddles. The palms
are plastic. So’s the manger in the cave. Michael can see
it’s backlit like a stage, not by the star. What qualms
he feels as he ponders the shoddy nativity scene
in the church yard are not calmed when his mother
whispers in his ear, “It’s Christmas, son. Hell’s
shut down for folks like us, heaven-bound.” Mean-
ing what? Could it be really true there’s another
world less sad than this? Be good, he’s told, or else.
He’s bullied at school, called a gay boy, a faggot by
the tougher guys. He never wants or means to stare.
They beat him with willow switches, make him cry,
leave him hurt and dirty in an arroyo. He doesn’t care
his teachers think him lazy during classes.
He’s tall, strong, but hates to fight and knows more
than other kids, stumbles sometimes, wears glasses,
boasts he doesn’t believe in God anymore, would implore
Him to make them quit it if he did. Is it selfish
of him to pray for himself when he doesn’t even try
to stop abusing himself? Maybe he’ll die. It’s absurd
the world’s unkind. “Make a wish, make a wish,”
his mother says. “It’s your birthday.” With a sigh,
he blows out the candles. They must know, have heard
of why he’s bullied. It’s past time. He runs away,
leaves Corpus Christi to the morons, takes a bus
to Frisco, crashes in a pad, is invited to stay
in a derelict Victorian where gay hippies fuss
over him like a baby. He needs to escape
after a few days. What they do is sin. He’d lose
his soul if he were to succumb. “God’s what you make
of yourself,” his mother had said. “What you choose.”
But he’s chosen to defy her the Christmas I meet
him in the Capri, nursing a ginger ale. Great genes,
I think. In my bedroom, naked, only a cross
round his neck, he begs me to let us greet
the new year together since the crowd scenes
in gay bars scare him, fill him with a sense of loss.
We date for three months. It’s fine. I don’t know why
I feel it can’t last. He finds a job in Fields Book-
store, likes to cook, go to movies, try
new trails in west Marin. He’s very good look-
ing, though he isn’t persuaded when I say
so. But I tell him to leave anyway. I stop calling
him, dropping by his room on a bay-
side alley off the Embarcadero. Everything
I do is hurtful. I’m just one more mean school
yard bully, a trite, blaspheming, uncaring lover
who abuses his love by looking for another
better than him. Better than Mike? From the letter
he writes after he’s left, I know I’m a fool.
He’s enclosed the cross he wore, still a believer.
May each of us, at the end of our days, be spared
the wrath of our cruelties, the rage of memory’s
curse, reminding us of our unkindness, those who cared
for us whom we failed. We, who do only what pleases
us, may we be forgiven for not loving enough,
for achieving only what was convenient,
what desire sought, who believed we could bluff
our way past death and need never repent.
In our last hour, relieve our minds and souls
of our hard words, each unkind, uncaring thing
we’ve said and done, you, who are music, who sing
in imagination, the angel fable says controls
our final moments, save us as we die, preserve
the love, the gifts we were given and didn’t deserve.
Read more of Peter’s poetry in DM 108 ~ Pride, now open @ http://www.dansemacabremagazine.com
Peter Weltner has published six books of fiction, including The Risk of His Music and How the Body Prays, and, in 2017, The Return of What’s Been Lost, five poetry chapbooks, among them The One-Winged Body and Water’s Eye (both in collaboration with the artist Galen Garwood), and six full length collections of poetry, News from the World at My Birth: A History, The Outerlands, To the Final Cinder, Stone Altars, Late Summer Storm in Early Winter (with photographs and paintings by Galen Garwood), and most recently The Light of the Sun Become Sea. He and his husband live in San Francisco by the ocean.
Danse Macabre is proud to name Peter Weltner our 2017 Artist-in-Residence. May our dedicated Macabristas delight in his wondrous poetics in both DM and DM du Jour throughout the year – and heartfelt thanks to Peter for his generosity in sharing his artistry with us. Cent’anni!