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poetry Holy Night

It's not easy to discover that a loved one holds views (prejudices) inimical to your own. The Carolina-based poet Dan Albergotti offers an exquisitely balanced portrait of what happens at such moments of discovery.

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Holy Night

By Dan Albergotti

My father said he wished the child were dead.
He didn’t say it in so many words,
but he said it. And it was Christmas Eve.
I breathed in silent tension next to him.

The news anchor said that of the seven
born to a black couple three nights before
the weakest child had gathered strength and would,
the doctors said, most likely now survive.

I’m sorry to hear that, my father hissed.
That’s just what this country needs, seven more—
of course he used the word. You know he did.
The television screen blurred to pastels.

I sat in silence next to him, the man
whose blood was my blood, whose eyes looked like mine,
and tried to breathe the thick air between us.
He was my father. This was Christmas Eve.

Lord of this other world, what will you make
of this? And reader, what will you accept?
That I stood up without a word and left
the house, got into my car, and then drove

to the pizza place as he expected
me to, picked up our order, and drove back
to that goddamned house to join my mother
and sister, who’d been singing Christmas hymns

by candlelight at the evening service
while my father wished death upon a child?
Will you accept that I wept on that drive,
listening to Radiohead’s “The Tourist,”

wishing I could stop the world’s spinning cold,
drive off its surface and take to the sky,
break its gravitational hold, sever
myself from it forever then and there?

Reader, I hear your silence now, hear it
like I heard silence that night in the space
between my father’s words and the night sky
I could see through my windshield, one bright star—

impossibly distant, already dead—
pulsing its pure light through millennia
of empty void to meet my aching eyes.
Maybe it’s better that you have no words,

that I have no answer. Maybe better
to just recall the peace of that short drive,
its brief respite where music and silence
were one blessing and the dark night holy.

This poem is reprinted with permission from Southern Illinois University Press [Millennial Teeth (2014)].

Dan Albergotti is the author of The Boatloads (BOA Editions, 2008) and Millennial Teeth (Southern Illinois University Press, 2014), as well as a limited-edition chapbook, The Use of the World (Unicorn Press, 2013). His poems have appeared in The Cincinnati Review, Five Points, The Southern Review, The Virginia Quarterly Review, and two editions of the Pushcart Prize, as well as other journals and anthologies. A graduate of the MFA program at UNC Greensboro and former poetry editor of The Greensboro Review, Albergotti is a professor of English at Coastal Carolina University in Conway, South Carolina.