Aug. 14, 2013

The Death of Santa Claus

by Charles Harper Webb

He's had the chest pains for weeks,
but doctors don't make house
calls to the North Pole,

he's let his Blue Cross lapse,
blood tests make him faint,
hospital gowns always flap

open, waiting rooms upset
his stomach, and it's only
indigestion anyway, he thinks,

until, feeding the reindeer,
he feels as if a monster fist
has grabbed his heart and won't

stop squeezing. He can't
breathe, and the beautiful white
world he loves goes black,

and he drops on his jelly belly
in the snow and Mrs. Claus
tears out of the toy factory

wailing, and the elves wring
their little hands, and Rudolph's
nose blinks like a sad ambulance

light, and in a tract house
in Houston, Texas, I'm 8,
telling my mom that stupid

kids at school say Santa's a big
fake, and she sits with me
on our purple-flowered couch,

and takes my hand, tears
in her throat, the terrible
news rising in her eyes.

"The Death of Santa Claus" by Charles Harper Webb, from Shadow Ball: New and Selected Poems, © 2009, published by the University of Pittsburgh Press. (buy now)

It's the birthday of Nobel laureate John Galsworthy (books by this author), born in Surrey, England (1867). He's the author of the Forsyte Saga, a series of novels that satirically portray British upper-middle-class families.

He won the Nobel Prize in literature in 1932, and he used the prize money to help establish an international organization for writers, PEN. It's an acronym they chose for the group after someone pointed out that the words for "Poet," for "Essayist," and for "Novelist" in most European languages have the same initial letters (P-E-N). He refused knighthood, saying that he didn't think that writers should take titles. In 1967, his Forsyte Saga was adapted into a BBC TV mini-series, which was hugely popular in England.

It's the birthday of Russell Baker (books by this author), born in Loudoun County, Virginia (1925). He is the author of many books of essays, including Poor Russell's Almanac (1972), So This Is Depravity (1980), and the memoir Growing Up (1982). After high school, he won a scholarship from Johns Hopkins University. He graduated and got a job for the Baltimore Sun, covering the police beat, and eventually worked his way up to being a White House correspondent. He thought that covering the president of the United States would be exciting, but it turned out to be incredibly boring. He said, "[Most of the job was] sitting in the lobby and listening to the older reporters breathe." Eventually, Baker got a job writing a humor column called "The Observer" for The New York Times. It was one of the first humor columns The New York Times had ever published, and Baker was one of the first writers for the Times to write in casual American English. His last column appeared in the Times on Christmas day in 1998.

Russell Baker said, "I've had an unhappy life, thank God."

It's the birthday of humorist Steve Martin (books by this author), born in Waco, Texas (1945). He's known as a comedian and actor, but he has also written several plays and novels, including WASP (1995), Shopgirl (2000), and An Object of Beauty (2010). He said: "The real joy is in constructing a sentence. But I see myself as an actor first because writing is what you do when you are ready and acting is what you do when someone else is ready."

It's the birthday of cartoonist Gary Larson (books by this author), born in Tacoma, Washington (1950). His cartoon The Far Side ran from 1980 to 1995 and ultimately appeared in more than 900 newspapers. As a child, he grew up collecting animals and observing them. He said, "I'd throw red ants in with black ants, and then play war correspondent."

Many of his cartoons are about the superiority of animals to humans. Larson once said: "It's wonderful that we live in a world in which there are things that can eat us. It keeps us from getting too cocky."

He retired by his own choice in 1995. He has said that one of his future goals in life is to own a restaurant that serves only cereal.

Be well, do good work, and keep in touch.®




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