Shoppers crowd into booths, shiny bags clustered at their feet.
A tree is lit, a small crèche tastefully arranged by our table.
We're three old friends, eating lunch, drinking decent merlot.
Between us, we've raised seven children. Our job was easy
back then--a pity we couldn't appreciate it, exhausted
and fighting with our husbands.
Now our kids are adrift across the globe
and we're counting the ways in which they are not happy:
One is etching the skin of her inner arm, a cuneiform
no one can read. One's lain in bed for months, spooning cold cereal.
The youngest, who was never any trouble, swallowed Ecstasy
and climbed out on the balcony, his arms raised to the lashing rain.
I've walked the city alone, at a desperate speed,
all day and into the dark because I could not hold
the two thoughts...my child, suicidal.
But here we are, eating sweet crepes, laughing even.
My friend turns to the ceramic figures gathered in the open stable,
picks up the tiny baby Jesus from his lump of straw.
"It's the whole a-child-is-born thing," she says
"We think he's going to save us,
but he's headed for the cross."
- Ellen Bass