Dec. 24, 2011
Out in the middle of the lake
Some men who work for the village
A floating Christmas tree
At night I see it
From my bedroom window
It rocks a little
Drifts a little
In the wind from the ocean
A fiery cone of jewels.
Already imagining her
Unwrapping it, I fold the corners,
Putting paper and ribbon between her
And this small box. I could hand it over
Out in the open: why bother to catch her eye
With floss and glitter?
Looking manhandled, it lies there
Like something lost in the mail, the bow
On backwards. And minutes from now,
She will have seen what it is.
But between her guesswork
And the lifting of the lid, I can delay
All disappointments: the give and take
Of love is in the immediate present
Again, though I can't remember myself
What's in it for her.
Today is Christmas Eve.
It was on this day in 1914 that the last known Christmas truce occurred along the Western Front during World War I. In the week leading up to Christmas, soldiers all over the battlefields had been decorating their trenches with candles and makeshift trimmings when groups of German and British soldiers began shouting seasonal greetings and singing songs to each other. On occasion, a soldier or two would even cross the battlefield to take gifts to the enemy. Then, on Christmas Eve, the men of the Western Front put the war on hold and many soldiers from both sides left their trenches to meet in No Man's Land, where they mingled and exchanged tobacco, chocolate, and sometimes even the buttons from their own uniforms as souvenirs. They played games of football, sang carols, and buried fallen comrades together as the unofficial truce lasted through the night.
It's the birthday of the "Queen of Suspense," mystery writer Mary Higgins Clark (books by this author), born in New York City (1927). Clark's father died when she was 11 and her mother struggled to raise Mary and her two brothers, working as a babysitter and taking in boarders to make ends meet. Mary went to school on scholarship and worked as a hotel switchboard operator while daydreaming about how life would be one day when she was a famous writer.
As a young woman, Clark married, had five children, and was herself widowed when her first child was nearly the same age she had been when her own father died. To get by, Clark wrote radio scripts and then a novel about George Washington. The book sold poorly, but proved to the author that she could "write a book. So I thought, 'now I'll try one that sells,'" and turned out her first suspense story, Where are the Children? (1975). It was a best-seller and she quickly followed it with five more, including A Stranger is Watching (1978) and The Cradle Will Fall (1980).
Clark says she believes in good guys and bad guys and the tension that is created when a fictional child is in danger. But however terrifying the hazards of her stories, she keeps her books free of profanity and gore. She's written more than 40 best-sellers already, while she adds at least one new book to the list every year with no plans for slowing down. In recent years, Clark has also co-written a series of Christmas mysteries with her daughter, Carol, including Deck the Halls (2001) and The Christmas Thief (2008), in which a private detective tracks down a stolen Christmas tree only to find the hollowed trunk stuffed with priceless gems.
Today is also the birthday of poet and essayist Dana Gioia (books by this author), born in Hawthorn, California (1950). Gioia's résumé is rather unpoetic. He attended business school at Stanford, claiming to be "the only person in history who went to business school to be a poet," and ended up a vice president at General Foods, where he marketed products like Kool-Aid. A year after his first book of poems, Daily Horoscope (1986), was published, Gioia left the world of business to write poetry and criticism and serve as Chairman of the National Endowment for the Arts. There Gioia created initiatives that brought together distinguished American authors with troops returning from Iraq and Afghanistan to help soldiers write about their experiences; began a program that put professional theater companies on tour to bring Shakespeare to more than 1 million students who had never before seen live theater; and started a national poetry competition for high school students to encourage them to read and write and compete for college scholarships.
Gioia published the collection The Gods of Winter (1991), the essays of Can Poetry Matter? (1992), the American Book Award winner Interrogations at Noon (2002), and numerous poetry chapbooks and books of criticism.
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