When a Child is Not a Child (1998)


When a child is not a child, collage © 1998 J. Thomson all rights reserved Here is a collage/poem piece I made in January of 1998. The pod-like structures attached to the trees relate to a mixed-media sculpture I made in 1997 out of cast glass, seed pods and other elements. It was inspired by the film Wings of Desire (1987, directed by Wim Wenders), and was meant to evoke a strange chrysallis, from which a winged spirit will emerge. Although I have no photographs, I still have this sculpture and will try to get it photographed someday.

I have often said that everyone should write poetry, but few people should read it. However, since the poem is part of this collage, here is a transcription of the poem I wrote for this piece:

When A Child Is Not A Child

Sloughing around inside this loose skin

I press my face close to the mask

Rough edges rub my eyes and

scratch my ‘lashes until they are raw.

“M’upher lipf’s salfy wid sweat.”

Dry leaves crunch underfoot—

I stumble and skin my left kneww

Sounds echo inside my over-big head

I feel alone— the other voices seem far away

But teh adult inside

the mask— Not yet

ready to emerge—

comforts me:

“There will be time

for worry later…”

This is Halloween

and my bag is full…

—14 January 1998

A Visit from St. Nicholas

ClementMoore Although his authorship of the famous poem has been contested (unconvincingly, in my opinion) the poem popularly known as Twas the Night Before Christmas is widely regarded as having been written by Clement Clark Moore, who was a distant relative of mine (fourth cousin, seven times removed to be exact. His 3rd great-grandmother, Mary Goodale, was my 10th great-grandmother.) It was first published unattributed in 1823 in the Troy, NY Sentinel. In his time, he was known as a professor of Oriental and Greek Literature at Columbia College (now Columbia University). His home at the time was a country estate where the neighborhood of Chelsea now stands in Manhattan. There is a park today at 10th Ave. and 22nd St. named after him.

The illustrations here are from an 1869 edition of the book, illustrated by Thomas Nast. Note that Santa at this time is still shown as he was when the poem was written, that is, he is dressed in brown fur and not the red and white getup we recognize today. (He’s still an elf, too!) So, in honor of cousin Moore and of Christmas, here goes…

A Visit From St. Nicholas

A Visit from St. Nicholas

‘Twas the night before Christmas, when all thro’ the house

Not a creature was stirring, not even a mouse;

The stockings were hung by the chimney with care,

In hopes that St. Nicholas soon would be there;

The children were nestled all snug in their beds,

While visions of sugar plums danc’d in their heads,

And Mama in her ‘kerchief, and I in my cap,

Had just settled our brains for a long winter’s nap —

When out on the lawn there arose such a clatter,

I sprang from the bed to see what was the matter.

Away to the window I flew like a flash,

Tore open the shutters, and threw up the sash.

The moon on the breast of the new fallen snow,

Gave the lustre of mid-day to objects below;

When, what to my wondering eyes should appear,

But a minature sleigh, and eight tiny rein-deer,

With a little old driver, so lively and quick,

I knew in a moment it must be St. Nick.


More rapid than eagles his coursers they came,

And he whistled, and shouted, and call’d them by name:

“Now! Dasher, now! Dancer, now! Prancer and Vixen,

“On! Comet, on! Cupid, on! Donder and Blitzen;

“To the top of the porch! To the top of the wall!

“Now dash away! Dash away! Dash away all!”


As dry leaves before the wild hurricane fly,

When they meet with an obstacle, mount to the sky;

So up to the house-top the coursers they flew,

With the sleigh full of toys — and St. Nicholas too:

And then in a twinkling, I heard on the roof

The prancing and pawing of each little hoof.

As I drew in my head, and was turning around,

Down the chimney St. Nicholas came with a bound:


He was dress’d all in fur, from his head to his foot,

And his clothes were all tarnish’d with ashes and soot;

A bundle of toys was flung on his back,

And he look’d like a peddler just opening his pack:

His eyes — how they twinkled! His dimples: how merry,

His cheeks were like roses, his nose like a cherry;

His droll little mouth was drawn up like a bow,

And the beard of his chin was as white as the snow;

The stump of a pipe he held tight in his teeth,

And the smoke it encircled his head like a wreath.

He had a broad face, and a little round belly

That shook when he laugh’d, like a bowl full of jelly:

He was chubby and plump, a right jolly old elf,

And I laugh’d when I saw him in spite of myself;

A wink of his eye and a twist of his head

Soon gave me to know I had nothing to dread.

He spoke not a word, but went straight to his work,

And fill’d all the stockings; then turn’d with a jerk,

And laying his finger aside of his nose

And giving a nod, up the chimney he rose.


He sprung to his sleigh, to his team gave a whistle,

And away they all flew, like the down of a thistle:

But I heard him exclaim, ere he drove out of sight —

Happy Christmas to all, and to all a good night.

—Clement Clark Moore


Images: Livingtson Family Site

My family connection with Moore