Friday, December 08, 2006

"Letter to Santa, 2006" -- A poem by John O'Connor

Letter to Santa, 2006

Dear Santa, here’s a list of gifts for John.
At your convenience, have it acted on.

I’m looking forward to a happy night.
I’d hate to have to send you anthracite.

I’m not expecting every one of these,
But give them your consideration, please.

Some tofu tasty as a slaughtered beast.
A new religion for the Middle East.

A way of having fun without a drink.
Prosperity. An end to all our wars.

A president who does not make me think
Of Hill and Bill as splendid, shining stars.

More clothing for Madonna, and for teens –
And for Pope Benedict, a pair of jeans.

Bring me duct tape for Kramer and for Mel
(I’ll keep a little for myself as well)

And notice, please, that I do not insist
On meeting any Kazakh journalist.

Some funny, useful, or compelling books.
Garrison Keillor’s wit but not his looks.

A pitcher who can finish what he starts.
A football team that beats the Patriots.

A soccer team the equal of the French.
Some distance runners stronger than their stench.

A cat. Some polished stones. A cup of tea.
A Harry Potter book I can’t foresee.

I could go on and on (I often do)
But as it happens I am nearly through.

One more request, as this epistle ends –
A merry Christmas, please, for all my friends.

©2006, John O'Connor

John O'Connor is a friend from high school, a gifted Irish-American poet born in an age that seems to have forgotten that poetry exists -- and why. In another age, he would surely be quite famous by now. A pity that's not the case, both for him and for our age.

I spent what I often refer to as, "the funniest summer of my life," working side by side with John doing the munion work for Arthur Benson II's civil rights lawfirm in Kansas City which was representing the plaintiffs in the famous KCMO school desegration case. We were both in college, me English/PoliSci at Occidental, and him pre-Divinity at Harvard (where he was Conan O'Brien's roommate for all four years -- another funny red-haired Irish-American, but one certainly more famous (at least for now...).

While toiling away in the dusty records bureaus of the KC area's six county seats, scouring through residential plats and housing deeds looking for The Negro Clause, that is, racially-restrictive covenants in the deed specifically forbidding the sale of the property to Negroes, we entertained each other during this historically repulsive, emotionally depressing, and mentally dull task with our attempts to find the most amusing and absurd names of all the various people who lived in these tens of thousands of racist households. Unfortunately, the complete list (we kept a running tally, and submitted it to the lawfirm at the end of the summer) has been lost to the four winds.

But I do remember some highlights. And note: these are real names, discovered on actual dusty documents that had been filed in those records bureaus sometime between 1880 and 1980, the year that the plaintiffs filed, I believe (the line of argument that was made, I believe, as a result of our reseach, was that school district lines had been drawn specifically to match up and "redline" with "whites only" housing developments. (Historical curiousity: we actually found many plats with racially-restrictive coventants forbidding the sale of the properties in certain subdivisions to NON-negroes -- so real estate developers and city fathers were covering their bases in both directions, essentially.)

It's been a long time, and I've killed more than a few braincells in the interim, but here's the few names I remember off the bat:

Seymore Longnecker
Henry Hose
Ida Huges

That last one had us laughing for weeks (actually years) afterwards. Ida Huges?

With his incomparable Irish brogue, John, not daring to look up from the document where he'd found the name, loudly asked me from across the room, "Ida Huges!? Ida Huges???"

I looked up. "Ida Huges? No way!"

"I am not kidding. It's right here. Come look! Ida Huges. If Ida Huges, what exactly is the object of her huging? Or does she just... huge? Is "To Huge" a transitive or intransive verb? I cannot figure it out."

Gales of laughter from me, angry annoyed looks from the county records building staff.

"Surely it must be a misprint; it's gotta be a misspelling of Hughes," I said, making my way over to inspect the golden find myself.

But no. There it was, in black and white. And not only was there just an Ida Huges, there was a whole huge Huges family. We found all of her brothers and sisters and cousins, as we spent the next hour looking to decipher the Huges mystery and climb every branch on the Huges' family tree.

And then suddenly, I had an IDEA.

"Oh my God, we should check the graveyard! She's gotta be in it somewhere!"

O'Connor immediately realized where I was going with this, and a mad scramble ensued as we flipped through the plats looking for the local graveyard nearest the Huges household.

And then.. Eureka! We found it.

There, in plot #237, of the Clay County graveyard, was a six-foot-by-three-foot piece of real estate that forever belongs to Ida Huges, her name quite clearly written right next to it.

"John," I said. "There is no choice here. We have to do it. We have to go buy a chisel and a mallet, and we have to fulfill Ida's grammatical destiny. She would want it that way. I'm sure that dear Ida will sleep forever more peacefully knowing that her headstone now reads, Ida Huged.

We laughed all the way home, and I think we may have actually driven around a bit looking for the graveyard, trying to steer the car through tears of laughter as we pictured ourselves sneaking into the graveyard in the middle of the night, flashlights, chisel, and mallet in hands... in search of Ida.

Ah, youth. Miss those days.

Here are a few more great poems by John that I have stored away in the dusty vaults of my computer. I keep encouraging him to publish, and helped him organize his 25 years of labor last year into a form fit for publishing, but so far that hasn't happened. Maybe I will just have to do it for him.

Sleeping With My Dog

It’s just platonic, actually – we’re friends.
We share a bed as other couples do
But there it ends.

There are some similarities. The sigh.
The bad breath in the morning. Tranquil fat.
And the endearing eye.

Pope Fergus

My Uncle Fergus wanted to be pope
But somehow never made the final cut.
He was short-listed – almost managed it.
(The women he had lived with didn’t help.)
Elected, he’d have made his own white smoke
From London fog and his tobacco breath
To show the Vatican the range and depth
Expected when you’re known to swear and tope.
One sees the church beneath the Fergan rule –
An excommunication for bad wine;
The ascot regulated like a sin;
Croquet a sacrament in every school.
He’d make another change: the papal guards
Would be replaced by English Eight Hussars.

Self-Portrait With Sculpture

Confront this fear: your masculinity –
Its awkwardness, its insecurity –

Contrasted with the giant marble rock
Which Michelangelo shaped: the perfect jock.

Oh, please. I need a level playing field.
I don’t believe the naked truth would yield

A good result for me. I need some shoes,
A flowered dress, some lipstick, and some rouge.

Then a fine hat, a monument to taste,
To nicely complement my padded bust.

I’ll pose beside the statue if I can –
A female Brit, a San Francisco man.

A purse and not a sling. Maybe some stones
Or country music songs or Irish tunes.

(Formidable weapons, these.) O fear my wrath
If muses arm me, help me sortie forth,

As tough as any feminist or fag
To fight the Philistines. War is a drag.

Al three are ©2005, John O'Connor


Post a Comment

<< Home