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The Death of Santa Claus

He’s had 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

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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 poet Charles Harper Webb is a professor of English at California State University, Long Beach, where he directs the MFA program in Creative Writing. For many years Webb was also a psychotherapist in private practice. “The Death of Santa Claus” is from Webb’s Shadow Ball: New and Selected Poems, published in 2009 by the University of Pittsburgh Press, and is reprinted with permission. The author’s photograph is by Karen Schneider.

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San Diego mega homeless shelter at Kettner and Vine bumps along

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He’s had 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

Sponsored
Sponsored

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 poet Charles Harper Webb is a professor of English at California State University, Long Beach, where he directs the MFA program in Creative Writing. For many years Webb was also a psychotherapist in private practice. “The Death of Santa Claus” is from Webb’s Shadow Ball: New and Selected Poems, published in 2009 by the University of Pittsburgh Press, and is reprinted with permission. The author’s photograph is by Karen Schneider.

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