A Visit from Joe

Another Night Before Christmas, with thanks and apologies to Clement C. Moore.

'Twas the night before Christmas
And all down the street
Not a creature was stirring,
Even cops on the beat.

Our belongings were wrapped
Round our bodies with care;
Our sugarplums were dreams
For our foodsacks were bare;

While I on the heating-grate
And Pa, canvas-wrapped
Had just settled down
For a cold winter's nap,

When out in the night
There arose such a clatter
We both sprang bolt upright
To see what was the matter.

The streetlights shone wan
On the car-mangled snow.
You could scarce see the moon
For the city's sick glow,

Then out of the gloom and the glum --
Oh my Lord!
Came a bald toothless man
In a battered old Ford.

He stopped right in front
Of our part of the street.
We all gathered round
Although noone would speak.

He twinkled, and everyone
Relaxed with a sigh;
Then he turned round to pull out
Sacks and sacks, piled high!

"Howdy-do, folks," he told us,
"My name is Joe.
My Ruth and I never had kids,
Don'tcha know.

"Last winter, God said,
It was Ruth's time to go;
But it wasn't mine yet -
I always was slow.

"I just had to find someone
To share Christmas with me.
So here I am, folks,
And now - here you be."

We ate roasted turkey,
Stuffing and all,
Chopped dates and almonds
Wrapped up in a ball.

There were presents for everyone
And jugs of hot cider.
We each open a gift
And toasted each other.

Then we all toasted him
And we all searched our bags.
Yvonne gave him a placemat
She'd woven from rags.

Jerry gave him the seagull
He'd whittled one day
From an old broom handle
Someone threw away.

With each treasure we gave him
We watched him glow brighter,
Then we brightened too.
Soon the whole street was warmer.

Then with backslaps and hugs
In the dawn of the Day,
He folded back in his Ford
And faded away.

As the morning of Christmas
Rose higher and higher
We stood in a circle
Round our own inner fire.

Christmas is what you make it,
Wherever you are.
Merry Christmas to all,
And to all a good year!

Cultural Variants on the Night Before Christmas, at Amazon.com:
Pennsylvania Dutch Night Before Christmas;
Sailor's Night Before Christmas;
Gullah Night Before Christmas;
The Night Before Christmas in Texas, That Is Cowboy Night Before Christmas

Countless forms of "The Night Before Christmas" (original, "A Visit from St. Nicholas," by Clement Clarke Moore) retell it in modern settings or dialects. Some, like A Lawyer's Christmas, ridicule some aspect of modern life (in this instance, legal jargon) by using the form of the old Christmas rhyme. Cajun Night Before Christmas, by Trosclair, is a happy and affectionate romp. (The illustrations are delightful, too!)

I wrote this version while I was homeless, in response to a couple of very cynical versions written by homeless friends at StreetLife Gallery. I'm happy to say it's proved popular. "Christmas is what you make it, wherever you are."

My Other Poems