Christmas in Columbus, Georgia

by NICK NORWOOD

A dead ringer for Santa Claus, he’s an aging grease monkey in a holly-green monkey suit in the next booth at Burt’s Butcher Shop and Eatery. Shaggy locks lilting up beneath a greasy cap, white beard, forking down his payday sirloin strip with his plumpety-plump wife. Friday night, place is packed, a little awful but cheerful, with its broad- hipped waitresses, harvest gold table tops, and working-class folk digging deep into hearty grub in wax-papered baskets. The black couple in the corner’s got a kid six or eight who can’t sit still though Mama says he better till it’s time to pay and she lets him sidle up to St. Nick. Early December, raw wind scraping trash across the park- ing lot, he wants to get his order in. Santa leans back, smiles, says he’s been watching him, sees he’s being, well, purty good. So all right, what‘ll it be? Action figures, a football, lots and lots and lots of candy. And games. They part on good terms, the old man chuckles, downs his sweet tea while his wife explains to the next table how it’s the same every year. Another minute more and they’re out the door, climbing in a ten- year-old Tundra, off to their white frame in Bibb City, matching La-Z-Boys, TV. The waitress refills our cups, my friend springs for the meal, and I’m off myself to my workshop in the old mill to cook up something about peace, love, and goodwill.

NICK NORWOOD’s third full volume of poems, Gravel and Hawk, won the Hollis Summers Prize in Poetry and was published by Ohio University Press in 2012. His poems have appeared widely, including in The Paris Review, Western Humanities Review, Shenandoah, The Wallace Stevens Journal, Poetry Daily, on the PBS News Hour site Art Beat, and on NPR’s Writer’s Almanac with Garrison Keillor. He is currently a professor of creative writing and the director of the Carson McCullers Center for Writers and Musicians at Columbus State University.