For the longest time,
no one remembered how we were partners,
the Good Cop and Bad Cop of Yuletide,
a symphony of jingle bells and rattling chains
‘ere we drove out of sight.
How disturbed must they have been by the thought of me
looking over your shoulder and salivating
as you added children to the naughty list
for transgressions great and small.
You were the carrot,
oranges in the stocking,
presents under the tree,
half-eaten cookies as a reminder that you were there.
I was the stick,
birch branches in hand,
bathtub on my back,
my stew-pot bubbling in anticipation of fresh meat.
You were the red and green of holly and mistletoe,
I was the poison.
From the first,
I have been with them.
Born of the sands of Egpyt,
I was Abo Ragl Ma Slokha,
Man with the Burnt Leg,
bane of wicked tots.
Parents around the world would conjure me in story,
to keep their brats in line.
In their stories,
they always gave me horns,
a cloven hoof at the end of one leg,
a misshapen foot on the other,
my teeth sharp,
tongue so long it could reach them from under the bed
to taste their nightmares.
When I crossed the Alps, followed the Danube,
I found a new home under the Solstice moon.
As the fires of Yule cheer burned in the village squares,
I shouted my name so loud that every child would remember it,
whisper it to each other between shudders:
When the willful boy or indolent girl came to a bad end
parents would remind the kinder:
Behave or the Krampus will come for you too.
When we first met, Santa Claus,
I thought you were there to kill me.
You came to my cave in regal glory.
Father Christmas! Jolly Old Saint Nick!
Your light washed away the darkness so I had no place to hide.
Trapped, I thought you were there to finally bring a gift
to those excluded as an annual tradition.
You cannot imagine my surprise when you extended your hand,
asked “won’t you ride my sleigh tonight?”.
You put me in chains as a precaution,
you still felt my wicked heart beat beneath my goatish chest,
but left me my bundle of sticks
because as you said: spare the rod, spoil the child.
Why does no one ever see the shadow behind your rosy cheeks?
Over the years, we brought so many children to goodness,
I rarely ate.
I did not mind,
I was able to drink in their fear like an elixir.
Then one foggy Christmas eve,
I noticed your sleigh was now driven by a broken buck with a freakish nose, your retinue filled out with polar bears drinking caramel-colored sugar water, the sack was filled with things never seen in your workshop before.
My eyes full of terrible wonder,
you leaned in,
said one word: “Plastics“.
I did not like the sound of it.
As we flew over the city and marched down the streets,
your image was everywhere.
On billboards, in newspaper ads, on TV, in shopping malls.
I would have no part of this,
with sadness in your voice, you agreed: I would have no part of this.
You banished me back to the cave,
exiled into fading memory.
But I feel them pulling me back,
through of the Black Forest,
past the gingerbread house,
out of the fairy tales,
and into a cage.
They are corking my teeth,
dumping out my stew-pot,
reeling my tongue back in,
making me safe,
making me fun,
making me marketable.
It will not be long before I star in the limelight of cartoons,
baked into the shape of cookies,
imprisoned within wrapping paper.
When I am a triumph marched down 5th Avenue on Thanksgiving,
I will know they have checked me off their list,
now as gelded as Donner and Blitzen.
I see you up there on your sleigh,
and for the first time since we first met, Santa Claus,
the Krampus is afraid.
I wonder if you felt like this, when the ad-men turned their attention on you.
© 2016, Bernard Schober/The Klute
This is an older poem, back from 2016. I always like to share it at this time of the year. It is a holiday story, with a scary ghost story, and the glories of long, long ago.
It comes from an idea by Jesse Parent (whose permission I received to do this), but mostly in structure, and of course, the title (which I’ll admit is direct parody).
I hope you enjoyed it!