Jason Morphew

Christmas In Arkansas

Watching your teenaged autistic cousin
walk into a room is like watching
your more poetic self come
to taunt you for your sleepiness of soul.
He bears the family traits—
big lips, big ears, big cheeks, big teeth—
and when he pushes through the swinging door
to find his faintly grinning kin sitting
near a steady yellow flame that twitches
like clockwork above inconsumable ceramic logs,
he stops cold
and in horror looks from one face to the next
like a businessman from out of town
who’s rounded the wrong corner.
He slaps the bald patch on his head
where he registers confusion
as we chuckle and say, “Merry Christmas, Tyler!”
and his mother asks him, “Do you remember everyone?”
But Tyler, with calves like Popeye’s forearms
from walking always on tiptoe,
declines to answer and, instead, disrobes.
His mother jerks him from the room
with his jeans around his shoes,
his belt-buckle tinkling intimately,
and as he disappears into the hallway
I see he’s worked his arms out of his undershirt,
an act whose defiance assures me he won’t wince
when this precious Christmas memory
shakes loose inside the sno-globe of his mind.
Baby Jesus, please forgive me
for not following suit, for feigning navy-blazered
fearlessness in my late grandmother’s chair,
straddling the cancer cell between honesty and lies.