New Year’s Eve


by Arthur Russell

After my brother and I had been washed and put to bed,

my mother, dressed, perfumed, jeweled and high heeled

would come into our room and wish us a happy New Year.


My mom believed in New Year’s Eve.

You could see it in the way she stood there backlit by the hall light. 


She believed in beaded dresses, dangly earrings,

a sleeve of bracelets, blue eye shadow

and Shalimar perfume and going out on a cold night in a warm car,

with crusty snow pushed back in a fan shape from the windshield

and headlights making prisms of the streetlights, and arriving by car,

and stockinged leg by leg emerging on heels,

and the teetered reach for a husband’s hand.


She believed in being seen by the other women arriving,

and going into a decorated room, even if you yourself that very afternoon,

in jeans and dirty sneakers had done the decorating. 


She believed in drinks, and the naughtiness of drinks,

and saying “Oh, no, I shouldn’t” and “OK, why not?”

and she believed that it mattered how many times you were asked a thing

before you gave in, and she took sly joy from giving in. 


She believed in laughing till she cried.

Laughing tears were evidence; a stitch in your side was proof

and not caring if your stockings tore was closing proof of happiness.


She believed in dancing with your husband

or, if he wouldn’t dance, then dancing with your husband’s friend

or your friend’s husband.  She believed in dancing,

be it rumba, waltz or foxtrot, and she believed in looking up

at the band when the rhythm changed as though the band

were the ones making naughty suggestions.


“You guys,” was an actual color of light

that showed in her eyes.


She had a memory for partners dance to dance

and year to year; who had a firm hand on her low back,

or a confident release or hair she liked to look at in the lights.


She believed in sitting down beside you at your table after dancing and

saying “Oh, my god, I’m not as young as I used to be.”


She believed that something happened at midnight.

She believed something could happen at midnight.

She believed that something was going to happen at midnight.


Standing in the doorway of our room,

she wanted my brother and me to know that she loved us,

that she wished us a very happy new year,

even though she couldn’t be with us when

the new year came.  Even though we couldn’t be awake

when the new year came.  Even though we couldn’t

see the thing that happened when the new year came,

except as a color of light in her eyes.