Robert DeMott – “Hospital Memory: Christmas, 1955”

Image of Robert DeMott's 2013 Christmas card and poem

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 poetryNews 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?”
—Robert Hayden

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.

Robert DeMott About Robert DeMott

Robert DeMott is Edwin and Ruth Kennedy Distinguished Professor Emeritus at Ohio University. His academic writing includes books, articles, and introductions to editions and anthologies of John Steinbeck that represent the best academic writing about Steinbeck in this generation. His books of poetry include News of Loss (1995); The Weather in Athens (2001), which won the Ohioiana Poetry Award; and Brief and Glorious Transit (2007). He lives in Ohio and fly fishes in Montana.


  1. Steve Hauk says:

    Lovely, moving, easy to relate to

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