Friday, December 20, 2019

Yes, Virginia

Each Christmas I like to revisit the following essay from the The Sun. My grandmother read it to me many years ago. I've always remembered it. If you don't already know this piece, I hope you'll enjoy it. I also hope you'll have a Merry Christmas if that's what you're celebrating. And I hope you'll have a wonderful New Year. Thank you for being a Blogalicious reader.

Eight-year-old Virginia O'Hanlon wrote a letter to the editor of New York's The Sun, and the quick response was printed as an unsigned editorial on September 21, 1897. The work of veteran newsman Francis Pharcellus Church has since become history's most reprinted newspaper editorial, appearing in part or whole in dozens of languages in books, movies, and other editorials, and on posters and stamps.

Here's Virginia's letter:

"DEAR EDITOR: I am 8 years old.
"Some of my little friends say there is no Santa Claus.
"Papa says, 'If you see it in THE SUN it's so.'
"Please tell me the truth; is there a Santa Claus?


Here's the reply:

VIRGINIA, your little friends are wrong. They have been affected by the skepticism of a skeptical age. They do not believe except what they see. They think that nothing can be which is not comprehensible by their little minds. All minds, Virginia, whether they be men's or children's, are little. In this great universe of ours man is a mere insect, an ant, in his intellect, as compared with the boundless world about him, as measured by the intelligence capable of grasping the whole of truth and knowledge.

Yes, VIRGINIA, there is a Santa Claus. He exists as certainly as love and generosity and devotion exist, and you know that they abound and give to your life its highest beauty and joy. Alas! how dreary would be the world if there were no Santa Claus. It would be as dreary as if there were no VIRGINIAS. There would be no childlike faith then, no poetry, no romance to make tolerable this existence. We should have no enjoyment, except in sense and sight. The eternal light with which childhood fills the world would be extinguished.

Not believe in Santa Claus! You might as well not believe in fairies! You might get your papa to hire men to watch in all the chimneys on Christmas Eve to catch Santa Claus, but even if they did not see Santa Claus coming down, what would that prove? Nobody sees Santa Claus, but that is no sign that there is no Santa Claus. The most real things in the world are those that neither children nor men can see. Did you ever see fairies dancing on the lawn? Of course not, but that's no proof that they are not there. Nobody can conceive or imagine all the wonders there are unseen and unseeable in the world.

You may tear apart the baby's rattle and see what makes the noise inside, but there is a veil covering the unseen world which not the strongest man, nor even the united strength of all the strongest men that ever lived, could tear apart. Only faith, fancy, poetry, love, romance, can push aside that curtain and view and picture the supernal beauty and glory beyond. Is it all real? Ah, VIRGINIA, in all this world there is nothing else real and abiding.

No Santa Claus! Thank God! he lives, and he lives forever. A thousand years from now, Virginia, nay, ten times ten thousand years from now, he will continue to make glad the heart of childhood.

Friday, December 6, 2019

A Constellation of Kisses Buzzing at The Hive Poetry Collective

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Recently Dion O'Reilly invited me to be interviewed on her podcast, "The Hive Poetry Collective." We spent 50 minutes talking about my new anthology, A Constellation of Kisses. I read a few of my own poems and we talked about Terrapin Books and the anthology. The end of the program included Danusha Laméris reading "The Kissing Disease," her poem from the anthology. Then Dion read "Birdman," her own poem from the book.

I loved the entire interview, but I especially loved the closing part, so I asked Dion if she could extract that part from the longer interview  and she kindly did so for a 13-minute program.

Danusha's poem was written for the anthology. In “The Kissing Disease,” the poet takes us back to high school, to those first precious, delicious kisses—and, for some, the mononucleosis that results when desire "enters the blood.” Here's the poem:

The Kissing Disease

Isn’t that what they called it? The fever
you could catch from pressing your lips
to the lips of another in the dark corner
of the gym after the game, or later,
lying down in the rough bramble
of the field. Wasn’t that how it began?
And didn’t it lead to a long malaise—
a month in bed, swollen glands
of the neck? You had to sip hot fluids,
eat crackers laced with salt, lie down
until it passed. What a way to meet
the god of want, slack deity who slips
into the back of your throat, microscopic
germ. The way we learn desire
is a contagion cast from one body
to the next. Something you contract
by getting close enough to inhale
the whiff of musk rising from her
like a lick of flame. Or from feeling
his shirt shake beneath your palm—
the dizzy of his heart. Bitter particle,
trick spore. Microbe hidden
in the volcano of the mouth.
Malady of the young, virus
of the tonsil, the tongue. What
can we say of how it enters the blood,
scorches a path through the veins,
sickens us with hunger, shapes
the course of what’s to com

Dion's poem is a revision of a poem she wrote years ago. “Birdman” is about her pet of 40 years, a parrot with one damaged wing. Dion addresses her bird as "my little green man," and describes him as “full of loathing” and wearing a “plumed suit the color of lawn.” Here's the poem:


Every morning, my Amazon parrot greets me
as he has since the day I bought him
for ten bucks on a dusty road
with his downcast rage and broken wing.

Hello Birdman, I say, and from his iron cage
he chirps like a telephone, lowers his yellow head,
so I can scratch the down beneath his pin feathers,
lift him to my lips for a clucky kiss.

For over four decades, he’s hated
first my boyfriends, then my husbands, three dogs, and a cat.
On the October morning when I carried my swaddled
twins into the sunroom and set them in the bassinet,
he watched with one yellow eye, tilted his head,
raked the air with his screams. Oh, he’s full of loathing,
my little green man.

How could he have known— as he flew
above the milpas in Hermosillo, before some kid
shot off his wing—that for the rest of his life,
he would live with a giant companion looming
over him with heavy bones and fleshy claws.

And how could I have known my prince
would fill a space in the chaos
three inches wide and eight inches long, that he would
kiss me at dawn with his Bakelite beak and
dry tongue— wear a plumed suit the color of lawn.

Interspersed between the readings, the two poets talk about poems and love, the strange turns both take.

I am delighted to have these two wonderful poems included along with 105 other poems in A Constellation of Kisses.

Both poets have forthcoming collections. Danusha's second book, Bonfire Opera, will be published by the University of Pittsburgh Press in spring 2020. Dion's debut collection, Ghost Dogs, will be published by Terrapin Books in mid-February 2020.

You can (and should!) listen to the short podcast here. Then you should get the whole book. And while you're at it, get some for your friends. A Constellation of Kisses makes an excellent gift for the poets in your life.

Listen to the full interview here.

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