In his later years, John Steinbeck complained about America’s decline into materialism—a state of spiritual decay he depicted as a familiar Christmas tableau: indulged children, gifts torn open and cast aside, crying to their parents, “Is that all there is?” Robert DeMott’s academic writing about John Steinbeck is the best of his generation. But his reputation as a writer of distinctive poetry—News of Loss (1995), The Weather in Athens (2001), and Brief and Glorious Transit (2007)—is equally secure: Weather in Athens was co-winner of the 2002 Ohioana Award in Poetry. Recently retired from Ohio University, Robert DeMott remembers his own father in his 2013 Christmas card poem—a reminder that the greatest gift is love.
—For James DeMott (1917-2007)
“What did I know, what did I know
of love’s austere and lonely offices?”
Dawn came slowly to our north shore
and I rose hazy from anesthesia
to watch it steal over house tops,
church spires, and parking lots
to sweeten the courtyard where
dwarf cherry and dog wood trees
bowed in their gowns of snow.
Daylight entered that room
through thick glass walls
and fell then on presents
piled by my mother’s wishes
at the foot of the bed.
I recall each child’s thing
by color, size, heft, and could
name them, but what’s the point?
All were well used but long gone,
as holiday presents often are,
before I knew the true gift
that night was my father,
driving miles through winter
to deliver his promise while I slept.