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Monday, December 6, 2010

Saint Nicholas

(Early twentieth-century Dutch card
of Saint Nicholas)

December 6 is the feast day of Saint Nicholas, the kindly bishop of Myra (270-346), in what is now Turkey, who secretly distributed gifts to the poor.

European children, especially in Germany and Holland, leave their shoes out the night before, to find them in the morning filled with chocolates and other sweets as rewards for their good behavior during the preceding year.

Saint Nicholas is also known by other names, including Father Christmas, Grandfather Frost and, of course, Santa Claus.


might I, if you can find it, be given
a chameleon with tail
that curls like a watch spring; and vertical
on the body — including the face — pale
tiger-stripes, about seven;
(the melanin in the skin
having been shaded from the sun by thin
bars; the spinal dome
beaded along the ridge
if it were platinum)?

If you can find no striped chameleon,
might I have a dress or suit —
I guess you have heard of it — of quiviut¹?
and to wear with it, a taslon shirt, the drip-dry fruit
of research second to none;
sewn, I hope, by Excello;
as for buttons to keep down the collar-points, no.
The shirt could be white —
and be “worn before six,”
either in daylight or at night.

But don’t give me, if I can’t have the dress,
a trip to Greenland, or grim
trip to the moon. The moon should come here. Let him
make the trip down, spread on my dark floor some dim
marvel, and if a success
that I stoop to pick up and wear,
I could ask nothing more. A thing yet more rare,
though, and different,
would be this: Hans von Marées’²
St. Hubert³, kneeling with head bent,

erect — in velvet and tense with restraint —
hand hanging down: the horse, free.
Not the original, of course. Give me
a postcard of the scene — huntsman and divinity —
hunt-mad Hubert startled into a saint
by a stag with a Figure entwined.
But why tell you what you must have divined?
Saint Nicholas, O Santa Claus,
would it not be the most
prized gift that ever was?

~ Marianne Moore (1887-1972), American poet

¹ quivuit – (kiv-ee-ute) the down of a musk ox, spun into yarn
² Hans von Marées – German painter (1837-1887)
³ St. Hubert – (655?-727), patron saint of hunters, often depicted standing by his horse in the forest and gazing at a stag; according to legend, as a young man he neglected his duties in favor of the chase until, while out hunting one day, he was converted from his wild ways by the sight of a crucifix between a stag’s antlers

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