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Our mother stacks hardbacks, spreads a white
apron, situates the crèche: Jesus, Mary, Joseph.
Wise men. A porcelain baby with a saxophone.

My brother dubs the cherub Paul Desmond
and secretly places him atop the manger
like a hipster herald. It’s Christmas Eve.

Each night I kneel in my bedroom beneath
shiny gold Jesus hanging on a shiny gold cross
and picture my prayers ascending to heaven.

Paul Desmond was a famous jazz musician.
He could play altissimo, the highest register.
His tone was light as a soul leaving the body.

I have a cassette tape of our mother talking
to our father. I never play it. I can’t recall
her voice, but she once said all jazz was sad.

Paul Desmond died at fifty-two of lung cancer.
Our mother died at sixty-five of lung cancer.
Jesus died at thirty-three of crucifixion.

We open a box labeled Christmas Stuff.
The decapitated head of baby Jesus rolls
out of tissue paper, across the floor, under a chair.

My brother’s wife died. She was fifty-nine.
Cherub Paul Desmond sits on the mantle
above his fireplace year-round. Some nights,

a cool wind plays through the empty rooms.



Barry Peters lives in Durham, North Carolina, with his wife, the writer Maureen Sherbondy. His work has appeared in Best New Poets, New Ohio Review, Poetry East, Southampton Review, and Southern Review.




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