soiled christmas cards

From as far back as I can remember,
until I reached 12,
every Thanksgiving and Christmas,
after he’d delivered groceries
to the people on his part
of the Sunday School’s list,
Dad took me with him
to see his “unofficial friend.”

We drove down an alley
far behind the foundry,
to Shorty’s,
bearing four bulging bags
from the local Jitney Jungle.

Mrs. Shorty, two heads taller,
had the shadow of a dark moustache.
Smiling as for a family portrait,
the Shorties stood stiffly
under soiled Christmas cards
strung four ways across the room.

“They get them from trash cans
a year ahead of time,
Dad explained to me later,
“and put them up just
to make us feel welcome.”

“That shore is a pretty child,” Shorty would say
as he reached to pat my head.
Dad beamed, and dug
into the paper sacks, proudly.

The Shorties had built
their home of cardboard
tacked to scraps of wood and tin.
The earth floored them.

“Whenever it rains,” Dad continued later,
“I know I’ll see Shorty and his wife
plundering behind my hardware store
to get the fresh, big boxes.”

Most dry days Shorty preached
on the Court House lawn.

The summer I was 18, I went back,
tried to find him there.
Others concatenated the despair,
preached “jedgement”;
But Mrs. Shorty and Shorty had died.

Sweating with the crowd in the Alabama sun
I remembered
the soiled Christmas cards,
my tight belt, and waiting for
the over-seasoned turkey to bite back.

— Louie Clay

###
Letters from Samaria: The Prose & Poetry of Louie Crew Clay This reflection appears in  Letters from Samaria: The Prose & Poetry of Louie Crew Clay. Edited by Max Niedzwiecki. NYC: Morehouse Publishing (Church Publishing, Inc.), 2015, pages 100-101.
Editor's Note: from the beginning, the Dew's policy has been consistent and clear – we do not accept poetry, but would accept stories about poetry or poems. This is an exception to the policy. Why? Well, I really like how I feel after reading Louie. I hope you do, too.

Louie Crew Clay

Louie Crew Clay,  81, is an Anniston, Alabama native and Professor Emeritus at Rutgers. He lives in East Orange, NJ, with Ernest Clay, his husband for 44 years. He holds an M.A. from Auburn University, a Ph.D. from the University of Alabama (Tuscaloosa), and honorary doctorates from three seminaries of the Episcopal Church. He is the founder of Integrity, an international organization of lgbt Episcopalians/Anglicans. Editors have published 2,750+ of Louie Crew Clay's poems and essays — including Letters from Samaria: The Prose & Poetry of Louie Crew Clay, NYC: Church Publishing, Inc., November 2015 and  Our Station Forgot to Give the Evening News,  Poetry Superhighway. An eBook in the press' annual 'The Great Poetry E-Book Free-For-All,' online from December 1, 2016. You can follow his work at Rutgers.edu. See also Wikipedia.org. The University of Michigan collects Clay’s papers.