Dec. 24, 2008


by Peter Pereira

Not so much the desire
for owning things
as the inability to choose
between hunter or emerald
green, to buy
just roses, when there are birds
of paradise, dahlias,
delphinium, and baby's breath.
At center an emptiness
large as a half-off sale table.
What could be so wrong
with a little indulgence?
To wander the aisles of fresh
new good things knowing
any of them could be hers?
With a closet full of shoes
unworn back home,
she's looking for love
but it's not for sale —
so she grabs three of
the next best thing.

"Oniomania" by Peter Pereira, from What's Written on the Body. © Copper Canyon Press, 2007. Reprinted with permission. (buy now)

Today is Christmas Eve. And a very famous poem, "A Visit from St. Nicholas," takes place on this night. It was published anonymously in 1823. The author was thought to be Clement Clarke Moore, but recently, many scholars have questioned that and think it might have been written by Henry Livingston Jr.

The narrator hears a noise outside and wakes up just in time to see St. Nicholas land on the roof, driving a team of reindeer. St. Nick slides down the chimney, stuffs all the stockings, and then taps his nose and zooms back up the chimney and away.

Christmas Eve is also the setting for The Polar Express, a children's book written and illustrated by Chris Van Allsburg, which was published in 1985. A young boy is lying awake in bed, trying to hear the sound of Santa's sleigh bells. Instead, he hears a train conductor calling, and he runs outside in his pajamas and bathrobe and joins many other children on a train called the Polar Express, bound for the North Pole. They drink hot chocolate and sing carols and watch the snow through the windows. Finally, they reach Santa's workshop at the North Pole, and arrive in a square packed with elves. Santa chooses one child to receive the first gift of Christmas, and it is the boy. He can have anything he wants, and he chooses a silver bell from Santa's sleigh.

He puts it in the pocket of his bathrobe. Back on board the train, all the children want to see it, and he discovers that the bell has fallen through a hole in his pocket and is lost. He's heartbroken, and he goes back to his house and falls asleep. The next morning, Christmas morning, he finds a little present under the tree — and it is, of course, the silver bell. He rings it, and he and his little sister, Sarah, think it sounds beautiful, but his parents can't hear the bell.

The Polar Express ends: "At one time most of my friends could hear the bell, but as years passed, it fell silent for all of them. Even Sarah found one Christmas that she could no longer hear its sweet sound. Though I've grown old, the bell still rings for me as it does for all who truly believe."

And it was on this day in 1801 that the steam engine transported its first passengers, on a railway in London. Richard Trevithick invented the high-pressure steam engine in 1800.

It's the birthday of poet and essayist Dana Gioia, (books by this author) born in Hawthorne, California, in 1950. He's the outgoing chairman of the National Endowment for the Arts.

He studied literature at Harvard, under Elizabeth Bishop. But instead of becoming a professor, he went off to business school at Stanford and worked for General Foods for many years.

Dana Gioia said, "I believe that poetry, like no other art, articulates an essential part of the human consciousness."

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




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