Twelve Days and Other Mysteries


On the first day of Christmas
my true love gave to me
a partridge in a pear tree


What does it mean exactly,
the chronic return of the partridge,
which, swaddled in melody,
follows the bulleted list

of things my true love gave to me?

What have I missed?

We start with a partridge in a pear tree 
—Bosc or Anjou, Bartlett or Comice?
No one knows, but there a partridge sits
among fruit, inchworm green
or of early sunlight blushed with red
—hiding?  Could be.
No one knows, but as a poet said,
if it’s information you want, ask the police
who, today, know so much 
of where a partridge lives
and how a partridge
loves or beds.

The bullet point that follows
posits two turtle doves which,
when you think a bit,
is an oddly alloyed name for a beast
which may suggest that one
that coos from feathers
and one that snaps from shell
are really not distinct at all
and may belong together
—at least this is what the lyric tells…

… and again, the partridge and her pears are back
(or his, since it isn’t clear if gender matters)
—back in joyful or inclement weather
we might suppose.
But, as frost on glass
in lace loops scatter,
no one knows, while
other beasts on rooftops clatter.

Now come French hens to join the gifts that he or she is given.
Three to be exact, perched beside the pair of turtle doves
with the partridge and the pears while (to keep tradition
and its climate straight) wind-blown snow is driven.
But why French? There are other hens with musical ambition:
hens that cluck like wood blocks in percussion sections
then utter reedy oboe slurs as they strut around the yard
proud and red-combed as Rumpless Araucanas
or cloud-like Booted Bantams, none of which are French
so again, as this love song goes (and goes), no one knows.

The next line gives us calling birds without stating
who or what they’re calling.  Are they asking for some mating
or are they simply putting out some mystic word?
It’s all a mystery —no one knows what base metal
is underneath any gold or silver plating,
or what these birds are calling —uplifting or appalling.
But, since the season’s tone is up you may assume
that joy is what these birds are gifting.

Soon, turning from biology with all its life and breath,
the song goes swinging on a tangent to geometry
and stuff that shines and glitters, stuff that’s more about
inertly filling space than facing death.
Five gold rings are in this moment given
and conspicuously hung from limbs.
They dangle near the partridge
who’s sure to come again in repeating lyric subsequence.
Has he or she been given rings for love or miracles?
            Who knows if they’re for those
            or just for muscled winter wins
………… at the Olympics.

In yet another twist, the receiving lover, singing,
tells of how this true love follows up this piling on of gifts,
and now comes bringing six geese (all at once a-laying)
dropping eggs as if this lover’s world was meant for only geese.
Was this true love a poultry farmer  
or did she run a rescue home for birds?
Who knows? We only have this melody
and words.

And then other Aserinae are brought by UPS.
Swans arrive this time with plastic pools in which
every single one is swimming, but why?  We have to guess.
No one knows the finish of this mythic tale
of which we’re in the midst. Each day harder things
to understand occur: some are bad and some are blessed.

Eight days into the song it shifts gears to mammals
and the signature expression of their breasts
as eight milking maids appear to give and give
and swell our coded Christmas annals in song,
without a satisfying key to what is meant.

By now a stage is set and ballet companies arrive
(harking back to day eight with swans) to dance
upon a pond of tears —nine, all ladies,
bound by love and curse. And one, Odette,
longs like us for one she’s never met.

One day beyond that performance
ten leaping lords arrive in limousines
(a cavalcade of SUVs with tinted windows
so the leaping machinations of these so-called gifts
could not be seen)
—as if this mysterious, enigmatic lover of the song
had meant to wring a nightmare from a dream;
but our singing lover didn’t flinch.
She was old enough to know that
against the hope of Christmas
lies a Grinch.

To bring more music to this scene
a band bus parks before our singer’s door
under strings of white LEDs and yuletide garlands
and eleven pipers piping blow
as mist machines make mist
and spotlights beam
and explosives rattle hearts and fences
and advertisements scream
and French hens come and go
and geese and swans insist
that lords come to their senses
and give away their golden rings
and fashion open palms from fists
so that again a partridge in a tree
of tear-shaped pears is seen as hope
returning as a gift, which may be hid
but ever-present

Merry Christmas!