By Robert Cosgriff


This Christmas card was different

And deserved—no, demanded—a second look,

Cried out for a gallery of its own,

Like a painting you just don’t understand,

To be contemplated in all its jarring-ness

(If there is such a word) from every angle,

To get at the ‘what’ and how and why of it.


The photo: family group on the beach.

Conventional, centripetal. Until you notice:

It is the lens that holds them together

Atop intersecting fault lines, sand shifting

Beneath their feet. They stand waiting

To be freed from their pose by shutter-snap.

Stare long enough . . . you start to see

Them as they were before, and as they will be after.


The letter. Two single-spaced sheets.

Digressional, confessional.  Until you notice:

It’s the same four people anatomized,

Forced smiles removed, lacerations revealed;

More than you needed or wanted to know,

And certainly not the usual tinseled travelogue

Or medical monologue you get this time of year.


This is no Hallmark babe-in-the-manger card,

Traditional, reverential, until you notice:

God is invoked in every other sentence;

He is thanked for rescuing them de profundis,

A far-from-holy family, wandering

In a wilderness of their own designing

To see and seize on any star they could.


You wonder how they could send it out.

Fanatical, inexplicable, until you notice:

The man in the picture as small boy,

The same who many years long since

Came skipping down the sunlit street

To wish us “Merry, Merry Christmas, everyone!”

To share with us his “very, very most favorite gift!”



Robert Cosgriff (Fairfax, VA) is a retired Navy commander. A magna cum laude graduate of Villanova University, he earned an MA in Education from Pepperdine University. His interests in addition to writing include birding, running and American history, all of which have found expression in his poetry. His works have appeared or are forthcoming in over two dozen print journals and e-zines nationally, including South Carolina Review, English Journal, Nassau Review (Best Poem, 2003), Cumberland Review (finalist, Robert Penn Warren Poetry Contest), Eclipse, Chaffin Review and California Quarterly. His poem “A Century of Links” was used for the text of an original video production by the Lorton Arts Foundation’s Workhouse at Occoquan, an extensive arts complex on the rehabilitated site of an historic former prison in Fairfax.

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