Christmas Shopping

Spending beyond their income on gifts for Christmas –
Swing doors and crowded lifts and draperied jungles –
What shall we buy our husbands and sons
Different from last year?

Foxes hang by their noses behind plate glass –
Scream of macaws across festoons of paper –
Only the faces on the boxes of chocolates are free
From boredom and crowsfeet.

Sometimes a chocolate box escapes in the flesh,
lightly manoeuvres the crowd, trilling with laughter;
After a couple of years her feet and her brain will
Tire like the others.

The great windows marshal their troops for assault on the purse,
Something‑and‑eleven the yard, hoodwinking logic,
The eleventh hour draining the gurgling pennies
Down to the conduits

Down to the sewers of money – rats and marshgas –
Bubbling in maundering music under the pavement;
Here go the hours of routine, the weight on our eyelids –
Pennies on corpses.

While over the street in the centrally heated public
Library dwindling figures with sloping shoulders
And hands in pockets, weighted in the boots like chessmen,
Stare at the printed

Columns of ads, the quickset road to riches,
Starting at a little and temporary but once we’re
Started who knows whether we shan’t continue,
Salaries rising,

Rising like a salmon against the bullknecked river,
Bound for the spawning‑ground of care‑free days –
Good for a fling before the golden wheels run
Down to a standstill.

And Christ is born – The nursery glad with baubles,
Alive with light and washable paint and children’s
Eyes expects as its due the accidental
Loot of a system.

Smell of the South –
oranges in silver paper,
Dates and ginger, the benison of firelight,
The blue flames dancing round the brandied raisins,
Smiles from above them,

Hands from above as of gods but really
These their parents, always seen from below, them–
Selves are always anxious looking across the
Fence to the future –

Out there lies the future gathering quickly
Its blank momentum; through the tubes of London
The dead winds blow the crowds like beasts in flight from
Fire in the forest.

The little fir trees palpitate with candles
In hundreds of chattering households where the suburb
Straggles like nervous handwriting, the margin
Blotted with smokestacks.

Further out on the coast the lighthouse moves its
Arms of light through the fog that wads our welfare,
Moves its arms like a giant at Swedish drill whose
Mind is a vacuum.

Louis Macneice (1907 – 1963).

Journey of the Magi
No, not T.S.Eliot’s world-famous canticle but another poem for Christmas from Northern Ireland.

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