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!)
In 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.)
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:
Vampires are in vogue
this season. See them draped in fur,
in the birches, mad-eyed, or
smoky restaurants, hungering
for that gleaming
suck of fame.
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!
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.
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.
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
And mend their brooms.
Above, rowan berries: traditional specific against witches–unknown whether it has any effect on gossips.
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