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Black Lamb

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Now in its 14th year of publication, this magazine was created to offer the discerning reader a stimulating selection of excellent original writing. Black Lamb Review is a literate rather than a literary publication. Regular columns by writers in a variety of geographic locations and vocations are supplemented by features, reviews, articles on books and authors, and a selection of “departments,” including an acerbic advice column and a lamb recipe.

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Fur release

December 1st, 2004

BY CLINTON WILSON

Tipi Khan is behind the wheel of the taxi cab as we’re stalled in mid-morning traffic at the entrance to the Midtown tunnel en route to LaGuardia, where I’ll board a Northwest flight destined for Boise. If it had been a shorter distance safely within the boundaries of Manhattan during a later, inebriated ride, I might have engaged him in a conversation about the dark stain his namesake left on European history, but now I am tensely quiet as I think about my impending familial visitat. It’s a prodigal-son return without the chastened spirit, one I’ve been dreading for almost three years. I don’t know what I fear more, fulfilling a promise I made to my mother to sit through a Mary Kay demonstration, knowing she wants to use me to capture the New York cosmetic market, or helping her sift through four recently unearthed boxes of papers, journals, and memorabilia from my youth.

As it turns out, the Idaho trip is remarkably relaxed and devoid of the expected anxiety. Mercifully, the Mary Kay demonstration never happens and is only mentioned the morning of my departure, and the archeological excavation of my past proves to be one of the highlights of my stay there.

One of the more recent journals from my college days I recognized instantly from the exposed the title page where I’d artfully written, “Agony’s Discreet Target: Collected Thoughts.” Flipping through ferocious lines of dark and violent poetry, my mother watching me intently, I stop to read an angry bit of poetry I had written during my post-Campus-Crusade-for-Christ-earnestly-searching-for-a-global-cause days. As a recent convert to apostasy and the humanities, I had used poetry to try to muster up some metaphysical credibility on campus. I ask my mom if she recalls my trying to derail the holidays with a dramatic reading of my fur protest poem “Mink on Mink” during the ceremonial unwrapping of the gifts. She does, and we both laugh after I offer a fresh reading, mocking the original that took place in my parents’ festive living room. Christmas morning, 1991.

God, did my mother ever like to deck those halls. Festooned with a dizzying array of twinkling lights, folksy manger scenes, Kewpie-doll harp-bearing angels floating on fluffy clouds, the entire house was transformed so that barely an inch of non-seasonal wall space was spared her suffocating yuletide treatment. But this kaleidoscopic frenzy of holiday cheer, so desperate in its desire to please and distract, only reminded me of how synthetically empty it all seemed. I was starting to resent the holidays, and found it increasingly difficult to contain my anti-Christmas spirit.

Each year at this time we were trapped in a routine and expected to play our parts: my brother and I would roll out of bed an hour or two after my parents woke, listen to the Biblical story of Jesus’ birth as interpreted by an anonymous author in Luke, and then ravenously tear open gifts with hearts outpouring with gratitude that would shift to awe when my mother was presented with an expensive gift from my father. Every year she’d mitigate her rejoicing with feigned surprise at how she thought they’d agreed not to get anything for each other this year. After the frenzy died down, my father would go virtually unnoticed the rest of the day.

But this year my mother was given a fur coat, and I just happened to be poetically armed with the perfect weapon for the realization of my holiday Schadenfreude. My poetical remonstration was a howl into the bemused gaze of my unenlightened family, my political and philosophical nemesis. I wanted to give them a taste of my new morality, a new worldly consciousness I was developing to replace their evangelical influence. They were a cellular representation of wanton consumerism and greed, and I read each line of the poem with a powerful earnestness that must have made the expression seem more like self-parody than moral outrage to them.

Society’s saints,
They touch the ground but once
And grace the world with their cruel beauty;
Their screaming carrion coats drip with warm blood.
I shift in my shackles;
Resist in silence
As vicious perpetrators run free.

Mink on Mink. A Divine Composure.

Will I violate that bloodthirsty cult
Choking life for fashion’s sake?

Clutching his newly-prized shirts and matching ties, my father saw my capitalist nature showing through the bohemian holes in my thrift store sweater when he uttered, “So I guess you won’t be accepting your gifts, then?” He used the playful, dismissive tone he usually saved for snobs, Vietnam war protesters, and those who used offensive language.

But I held on to my gifts and received them each holiday season with diminishing fervor. Sheepishly, I accepted them as if they were my reward for suffering through a dreaded game I no longer knew how to play. It finally exploded in my face during the holiday visit I made to Idaho three years ago. That visit ended with my mother distraught as I gave her the silent treatment until proclaiming that I’d destroyed their Christmas check in righteous indignation.

Call me Ebenezer. I don’t really do Christmas anymore and my parents have given up on my participation in the whole affair. This late summer visit — my concession in the protracted rapprochement — was a compromise made to assuage these holiday expectations.

Recoiling from the Comfort-and-Joy-Messiah-land spectacles, I’ll greet the season in my own downtown dissolute way. I’ll admire my “day of the dead” decorations as we listen to Brian Wilson’s “Smile” with perhaps a Beethoven ditty sprinkled on top (absolutely no Handel or Tchaikovsky). Holding my breath until Boxing Day, I’ll surface from my holiday hibernaculum to sip champagne or whatever intoxicating beverage happens to be circulating at the time. Who knows, I may even rediscover my Christmas spirit by writing poetry and taking up causes again. PETA, do you hear what I hear? •

Posted by: The Editors
Category: All Christmas Issue, Wilson | Link to this Entry

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