Hayden Saunier shares a story of Christmas past, the power of compassion, and our capacity to heal.
My Father Tells a Story About Beauty
It’s 1948. Girls are singing, wearing white, a chorus
from the upper school of Saint Some-Woman’s-Name.
Christmastime in 1948. They’re singing
in the overheated day room of the V.A. Hospital
in Richmond for an audience of convalescent
soldiers, freshly bathed and listening. Panes are fogged.
Heat swirls a mix of disinfectant, taffeta, perfume,
nervous sweat. It’s close, the war is over, radiators hiss
and girls are singing Christmas songs to men whose wounds
aren’t new. A girl—so beautiful, this girl—
and here, my father’s voice begins to crack—
so beautiful, this girl in white at the end of a row of girls
wearing white, this girl leans toward the man who sits
before her, panes are fogged, and asks what song
he’d like to hear. He doesn’t answer right away.
She smiles and waits. It’s close, the war is over,
radiators hiss. He answers, roughly, “Silent Night.”
The girls begin to sing and as they do, the man,
who had not spoken in four years,
begins to weep, the other men begin to weep,
my father in the year 2012 begins to weep—
it’s 1948 and girls are singing, wearing white.
from Tips for Domestic Travel (Black Lawrence Press, 2009)
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