The Ghosts of Christmas
Christmas Eve 1963
I watch my grandmother beat a burlap bagful of eels to death against her kitchen table. Each blow leaves a slimy print on the Formica.
Christmas Day 1974
My father gives an unwrapped carton of Kents to my mother; she gives him a bottle of Old Spice. He regards her with eyes unfocused from Cutty Sark.
Christmas Day 1977
I find the Bosun’s Mate passed out with his face on the mess deck table; the cloying smell of seared flesh from the Marlboro between his fingers settles in the back of my throat like a plug of wet toilet paper.
Christmas Eve 1983
My father buys tangerines and oranges—unattainable Yule luxuries from his boyhood—unable to understand why the Russian checkout girl is angry that he’s put them in the same bag: “Different price!” she snaps at him.
Christmas Day 1986
The strings of popcorn on the tree are alive with thousands of ants—they go into the trash together.
Christmas Eve 1994
We eat our holiday meal in silence, neither of us able to say the marriage is over. The place mats are painfully festive.
Christmas Day 2001
My brother gives my mother a puppy—it sits on the couch, cornered and terrified by my curious 6-year-old niece. I shout at her to leave the animal alone. Because that’s what I would want.
Christmas Day 2005
My mother’s ALS has progressed; she can no longer hold a knife and fork, nor ask for help. I feed her what is her last holiday meal. At 3 a.m. I leap out of bed to vomit up a plate of lasagna in the pine-scented bathroom.
Christmas Eve 2017
My now-partner and I sit side by side in our cozy apartment and look at our pretty tree—my chest is full of eels frantically squirming in the suffocating dark.
Robert J. Howe has published poetry in 50 Haiku and Serving House Journal, and has poems forthcoming in The Dawntreader and Main Street Rag. His short fiction has appeared in Salon.com and The Flatbush Review, the magazines Analog, Black Gate, and the anthologies Newer York and Happily Ever After. His haiku series, “Bury My Heart at Olduvai Gorge,” was part of the traveling exhibition Knowing Limits, a traveling exhibition shown in U.S. national parks.