I was recently joking with my daughter’s father after seeing the usual Keep Christ in Christmas reminders that she actually keeps the “mas” in Christmas, that is, the Spanish “más”: more. Like a lot of five year olds who are also only children, she received an abundance of gifts (to understate) from Santa at both her home with me and her home with her father. Additionally, being the youngest grandchild in my family (with the next youngest at twenty-six), we could barely fit her gifts from my parents and siblings in our Mustang. My oldest brother teased that we could always drive with the top down (if only it wasn’t so unusually cold here this year!). Her father had a similar situation with his truck after they spent the evening with his family. Our daughter was thrilled by the sight of everything but was also truly appreciative of every book, Saints shirt, and board game (yes, she loves board games) she unwrapped.
I know the spirit of Christmas isn’t about more presents, of course. But, for me—and a lot of people—the spirit of the holiday season is about more: more time with family and friends, more generosity and care for those less fortunate, more time thinking of others, just generally more love. I’ve read a lot about how important it is to teach and model these values to your children, but honestly, I think I have one of the sweetest children ever born. She’s been kindhearted and generous from the start, no great thanks to me. This holiday break, we spent many days sorting stuffed animals and toys into piles that she designated “for Kennedy” (my nephew’s infant daughter) and “for kids we don’t know.” She also helped me pick lemons from our tree and deliver them to our elderly neighbor across the street—who wanted them for her nonagenarian mother! During the days leading up to Christmas, she made cards and paintings for numerous family members, including a painting of the Superdome for her father. The point being that, while she was clearly anxious for Santa’s visit and wanted a lot of things, she also wanted to make sure other people had whatever they might need. She’s five. If only we all could think and act this way more of the time, wouldn’t that be astonishing and wonderful?
So that was how I spent my holiday break. I could not have wanted more. But here is more for all of you readers of fine literature: the winter issue of The Southern Review. With our offering of prose and poetry—eleven prose pieces and twenty poets—it’s perfect for hunkering down under the blankets and reading on long, cold nights, which seem to be more plentiful than ever. There’s a sweet essay from longtime contributor Gary Gildner about how he met and then married, many years later, his wife, Michele. Such a tale of love finding its way is a great carry-over from the holiday season. And to counter that feeling, to ruminate about the loves that didn’t work out, there’s Thomas E. Kennedy’s story “Beneath the Eyes of Venus and Jupiter,” in which the speaker ends up alone under a lonely sky, the possibility of love slipping away for now (just as Venus has, coincidentally, said good-bye to our own night viewing sky for a while).
Likewise, a lot of the poems address loves that didn’t work out, whether it’s a wife’s killing of her husband in Rebecca Dunham’s skillful and incisive “Whetstone”; the tinge of pain that remains between a couple decades after a miscarriage in Joan Murray’s “Wracked Blue Suitcase”; or the heartrending exploration of a daughter’s grief when her father, after a skydiving accident in which he is severely injured, commits suicide in Julia B. Levine’s “Small Disasters Seen in Sunlight.”
The winter issue also contains the love and loss of a horse. Ciaran Berry’s poem, “For Shergar, neither Ode nor Elegy,” details the quick rise of the champion racehorse Shergar and subsequent kidnapping and killing by the I.R.A. Berry’s telling is so precise and vivid that it feels like a movie, one surely starring Daniel Day-Lewis.
But as I close, to bring this note back from that of loss to that of what endures, I’ll mention Chana Bloch’s poem, “The Joins,” which opens the winter issue and which also appears in our audio gallery along with contributions from many other fine poets and prose writers. In her poem, the speaker says, “What’s between us/ is made of clay,/ like any cup on the shelf./ It shatters easily. Repair/ becomes the task.” Like all relationships, delicate and tentative, there is the choice to either sweep it into the bin and move on or reglue time and again to the point that “Scar tissue [becomes] visible history,/ the cup more precious to us/ because/ we saved it.” When it’s at all possible, why not opt for a more interesting cup? I’m opting to keep más in my cup every day.