Spooky Fun: Images of Halloween & a Cauldron of Poems: “Beware”, “Doppelganger”, and “Driving to Appleton”

Halloween Pumpkins

Halloween is a great time for harvesting pumpkins and reflections, taking stock, and just getting silly. Hope you like the grab-bag below of images, insights, and poems below! (For images of a special dog and a special cat, scroll all the way down!)

Ann's Pumpkin

Halloween 11In the photo above, what’s scarier? The silhouette of the witch on her broom, posted on the blinds,  or the images flickering on the television inside? Your guess is a good as mine but I’m going for the televised images.

When I was in second grade, my best friend and I used to race home from school to see the latest episode of the (now cult classic) television show, Dark Shadows. For those who don’t know or remember, the opening credits are layered over waves crashing at the base of a cliff on the Maine coast, atop which sits a spooky house. The voice-over (a ghost? a warning?) says eerily, haltingly, “My name … is Victoria Winters…” We’d hear that and be off to be deliciously spooked for half an hour. Who knew what would turn up? Vampires? Witches or warlocks? Werewolves? Ghosts? It was all fog and suggestion, a jumble of plot lines we’d try to untangle. Anything might pop out of the closet or the crypt. (A side note: last year, curious to find out what I would think of them now, I rented a few of the early episodes from Netflix. They were hilarious! And my daughter says that the disco dancing–in which actors keep both feet planted in place–is truly scary.)

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Back then, my taste for narrative leaned toward the gothic more than it does now, though I still enjoy the atmosphere in a poem like “Maude” by Alfred, Lord Tennyson, or “Annabel Lee” by Edgar Allen Poe. Back then, I read Ripley’s Believe it or Not as well as Little House in the Big Woods, but when it came to Halloween costumes, I always wanted to be a beautiful gypsy or a fashionable witch, never anything scary or gory. I didn’t think then about how fashion itself can be scary. (High heels? Belly piercings? You see my point.) Then, in college, my first roommate arrived with a subscription to Vogue magazine. During the fall of freshman year, I wrote this poem:

Beware

Vampires are in vogue
this season. See them draped in fur,
gaunt, lurking
in the birches, mad-eyed, or
haunting
smoky restaurants, hungering
for that gleaming
suck of fame.

Birch Eyes

Later still, encountering the idea in literature of the “doppleganger” or double, I thought about how much of what can truly scare us is what we sometimes see in the mirror: our own worst self looking back at us through our thoughts and actions. There’s always that gap between how we want to be (and be perceived) and what we manage to achieve. Now, that’s scary stuff, kids!

DOPPELGANGER

He is here again, the bad twin,
the other, the feared-but-known.
Where are his eyes?  His nose is gone.
All that remains is the grin.

I think he is trying to get in.
The birds have fallen silent.
And then I know.  And groan.
He rises from my very bone.

Doppelganger

Nonetheless we disavow the doppelganger. We do our best to close that gap between actual and ideal, try not to sag in our intentions to be our best visions of ourselves, to smile, to play (even) through the pain of disillusionment that is just part of the human experience. And it’s funny for me to realize that Halloween, with its traditional juxtaposition of tricks and treats, masks and monsters, ghouls and glitter means more to me each year. Below, a final salute to Halloween in one more poem and several more photographs.

Halloween Broom

DRIVING TO APPLETON

Pumpkins sleep close to houses.
Evening light covers them with gold.
These farmhouse windows are lit but cold.
Grey barns settle on their stones.
Everywhere sheaves lean
Toward their centers.
Great rolls of hay seem to lumber.
Winter is coming, but now
The culverts are purple with thistles,
The cattle are plump,
And there, in the hollow,
A rusted harrow rests.

The woods beyond
Are full of gossips.
When the moon washes over
The tops of birches,
They’ll ride to the cut fields
To glean
And mend their brooms.

Leslie Schultz

Halloween Rowan

Above, rowan berries: traditional specific against witches–unknown whether it has any effect on gossips.

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6 thoughts on “Spooky Fun: Images of Halloween & a Cauldron of Poems: “Beware”, “Doppelganger”, and “Driving to Appleton”

  1. Wow, Julia, thanks for explaining about the link between E.T.A. Hoffmann and “The Nutcracker”. I had no idea, but now that I do it certainly explains the underlying menace in the piece. And it is a vivid story of you standing in line all day for the sake of literature. I can just picture it.

  2. Hi Mom,

    Glad you liked the poems. I can just picture Dad with that pillow case full of candy. Leslie

  3. I love all of your photos, so right for the season. Peanut is such a doll. As a child, I liked Halloween, too, and we would go house to house with friends. Your dad was very ambitious. He would take pillow cases and run from house to house to get as much candy as he could.

    Your poems are wonderful and so descriptive. You definitely have a way with words. Greetings to all. Love, Mom

  4. It would be great to see you new poem if it happens. As for Dostoevsky, he was primarily a Romantic with a Gothic imagination and learned about the doubles and experimenting with the literary form from E. T. A. Hoffmann and other German Romantics. It is not a chance that Tchaikovsky chose Hoffmann’s “The Nutcracker” for his opera. We still read him a lot in Russia, and I remember spending a day in a line to buy Hoffmann’s tales during the Soviet time as a teenager.

  5. Hi Julia,

    I thought of Gogol when I decided to include this old poem!

    I wrote it so long ago, when I knew very little about Russian literature, but indirectly I learned about the device of the double from Russian literature, because I first encountered it in my work on Sylvia Plath. Her thesis at Smith College was “The Magic Mirror: A Study of the Double in Two of Dostoyevsky’s Novels”, and in reading about that I first discovered the word “doppelganger”. I remember looking it up in my dusty red dictionary, loving the sheer sound of it.

    Thanks for the spooky suggestions! And this morning, all this thinking about noses sparked a draft of a new poem…we’ll see if it goes anywhere. Noses have been known to take off!

    Leslie

  6. Thank you! I love to think about doppelgangers at this time of the year. Have you read E. T. A. Hoffmann’s “The Doubles”? It is perfect for the season, together with his “The Sandman” and Chamisso’s “Peter Schlemihl.” The German Rpmantics could be really spooky! The poems are truly wonderful, and, of course, I didn’t miss the noseless image.

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