She first saw Christmas when she was three
he came to a big store near the town square
she saw his white beard, his red coat,
saw the fairies and elves in his grotto
she sat on his knee and he gave her a toy.
When she was six or seven
Christmas came all the year round,
sometimes when the sky was full of gold
or when the leaves turned orange
he would be there at night in her room
so that, waking from a dream,
she would feel him stroking her hair, her face.
When she was thirteen in white December
she cried out when Christmas came
crimson velvet pressed her down
cast a rosy glow on her young breasts
stained the bedsheets scarlet.
Now she hates red
wears green and yellow T-shirts
paints her bedroom blue.
Their last night and in the morning,
the bitter cup before them,
she put on her strawberry-pink suit
with gold buttons and navy collar.
After fifty years my hand flicks on television;
I never knew whether the navy collar
was attached to her blouse or to her coat;
this thought comes to me now.
It came to me at the very moment
she crawled across the bodywork of the car;
when we saw her again, her stockings
and skirt stained, I still thought of that.
If I could spiral down through time,
I would erase that day.
Strawberry in November would fade
to black and white in memory;
the cup would pass.
Each year when the summer came she came
the pinny crisp and blue
red-gold mane caught back severely for this task
grey eyes ranging from brother to sister
noting increase of weight and height since last year.
words were gentle in her mouth
faithful to shades and tint in the old language
always slow and stumbling in English
peeling oranges, she told us of my mother’s
coming child and guessed its gender
as she searched for the jam pan.
the scent of flowers and fruit filled the house
and followed in her footsteps
for her we were always good
a girl made out of meadowsweet
like Blodeuwedd, we said, without the owls,
an aunt without owls.
A ribbon of sound from one silver-blue voice
then the shade deepens to amber, topaz,
as the voices increase until all eight choirs sing.
The sound expands, floats out, moves into reverse,
gold set against blue again
and then finally blue resurging, fading
tiered like a crown yet resting on the
head lightly, giving peace.
This music is like a dress
moving gently, the skirt smooth
full of golden light,
embroidered with sapphires, pearls,
lilies, marguerites for a virgin queen.
When the eight choirs sing
there is the sound of crimson,
a garnet necklace lying against creamy skin:
a fitting gift for Oriana
with flowery garlands crowned,
renowned queen, better your own Tallis
than the notes of Palestrina in Rome.
We give her our gift of song
for her birthday, our Elizabeth;
we put our hope in no other.