Fall/Winter 2013

Jane Rosenberg LaForge


You must live among your
trees if you want to keep
your teeth in your head for
another season, to guard
the harvest against the wolves,
or really the dogs that once
were domesticated but have
since been abandoned, to drift
and moan through the warehouse
district and rail yards, as if
they were hillside animals,
coyotes. We had coyotes in
the backyard at the house
the trees built, and deer in our
ivy, but never in our garbage.
It was not that kind of suburb
but one with class, or at least
a class loathe to admit us.
And on Mother’s Day, when
the checks came, we always
had plenty of takers, welfare
families looking for a temporary
symbol of life eternal in a desert
made of their own choices. The
rest of Advent, we had to protect
the trees from junkies, who could
really turn trees into product. Oh,
how my mother loved the smell of
the trees, the scent of withdrawal
from boredom and heat, and all
that was our neighborhood: Jews
selling rags, strong bones and ski
equipment, and finally there was
us, Jews selling German traditions
to the goyim immigrants, as if we
couldn’t do enough for the Fatherland.
Oh, how my mother loved Christmas;
she loved the lights, just as she loved
pearls, their cold, unapologetic sources.
God how I hated it, because I hated
being left out. But we were scrupulous
in our business, and sold no tree
before the first frost: in Oregon or
Washington so the needles would be
resigned and wedded to their branches.
Once we got primo-trees from Idaho
and Michigan. Once we sold trees
to Guam. That must have been one
of our good years, although I wouldn’t
know. I could never tell them apart.
I never knew the difference between
a Scotch Pine or a Silver Tip, a Douglas
Fir or a mutt. For a month or maybe
six weeks my sister and I lived on
Chef Boy-Ar-Dee and Jiffy Pop while our
parents moved trees and tried to give
away hot chocolate. When I was a
newspaper reporter, I had to do a story
about a little boy burned over ninety
percent of his body on Christmas Eve
because he plugged in the tree lights
and they shorted out, and the tree
went up like an epithet planted in
someone’s front lawn. The family
refused to be interviewed unless
I promised to write that he survived
only by the good graces of Jesus Christ.
Jesus Christ, I thought; I hope they
don’t find out about my background.
The boy was born out of wedlock;
his parents lived apart, but since
their son’s life had been spared
they were certain they’d do it up
proper now, just as my parents
had done, before women’s liberation
and my mother’s accounting class
at the community college. On the occasion
of their wedding, my father gave
my mother a gold nugget for her
charm bracelet, because gold recalls
russet, like the children they would
share, and leave each December to
fend for themselves; russet like the
haze we would breathe in from my
mother’s nicotine habit; and finally
russet like the potatoes my father then
sold, until they lost their profit margins.
Then he moved onto onions, and finally
trees, when the last of his connections
dried up. When I worked for my father
I passed the time by reading “Goodbye
Columbus” aloud to one of my cousins,
whom I had never met before, from the
family’s African American branch. I haven’t
seen him since. At night, the Santa Ana
winds would imperil our little Christmas
tree lot, to wipe the living trees out of
their pots and cut the others off their
crosses, and we’d have to scramble like
rodents outrunning a flood to right them
again,  the varieties of living and undead.
“God dammit, don’t call them that,’’
my father would yell into the dark,
because, after all, he could not have
me fired. I was the only one left to
inherit the family business, and we
had even fewer customers to inspire us.

Jane Rosenberg LaForge is the author of "With Apologies to Mick Jagger, Other Gods, and All Women,'' published by The Aldrich press. Her two chapbooks of poetry are After Voices (2009) from Burning River of Cleveland; and Half-Life (2010) from Big Table Publishing Co. of Boston. She has been nominated for a Story South Million Writers Award; and twice for a Pushcart Prize, once for fiction and once for poetry.



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