Tricks & Treats: Two Not-So-Spooky Poems
Halloween is a time when we like to be scared…a little, and some of us more than others. In the light of day when we’re putting on our costumes and makeup, it’s easy to see that you are you and I am me. But when the sun goes down, the wind picks up and strange grinning faces light the streets, it can be tough to remember that it’s all just pretend, and some parents may find their children suddenly attaching like barnacles to their arms or legs, a little less enamored of Halloween’s spooky surprises.
Many of the poems I looked at for this month’s column explore that space where spooky crosses over to scary. Some of the poems I read really were too scary to say with kids, but some found that sweet spot where we might get goose bumps, but know we can always turn the lights on.
I decided to offer you two poems on a similar theme, neither of them terribly creepy, but one is definitely more benign than the other—you get to choose how much scary your family can take!
Keep in mind as you read these: both poems follow the convention of capitalizing the first word of each line, even though it’s not a new sentence. Not many poets do this anymore, but it used to be the standard.
You can ignore the capitalized letters, BUT they do create a kind of emphasis, both in music and meaning—you’ll see this especially when you get to the more tricky line breaks, such as his/Wry, and everyone/Dies in this first poem, “Mr. Macklin’s Jack O’Lantern,” by David McCord. Read it aloud a few times and you’ll get what I mean:
Mr. Macklin’s Jack O’Lantern
by David McCord
Mr. Macklin takes his knife
And carves the yellow pumpkin face:
Three holes bring eyes and nose to life,
The mouth has thirteen teeth in place.
Then Mr. Macklin just for fun
Transfers the corn-cob pipe from his
Wry mouth to Jack’s, and everyone
Dies laughing! O what fun it is
Till Mr. Macklin draws the shade
And lights the candle in Jack’s skull.
Then all the inside dark is made
As spooky and as horrorful
As Halloween, and creepy crawl
The shadows on the tool-house floor,
With Jack’s face dancing on the wall.
O Mr. Macklin! where’s the door?
If the first one doesn’t fit for you, this second poem, by Carl Sandburg, strikes a lovely balance. I encourage you to seek out more of Sandburg’s work; he fell out of fashion for a while, but is being “rediscovered” these days. Sandburg’s a poet with a strong social conscience who cared deeply about the lives of working people. He also wrote some wonderful children’s books, including Rootabaga Stories. Here’s his gentle take on the Halloween experience (from the pumpkin’s point-of-view):
Theme in Yellow
by Carl Sandburg
I spot the hills
With yellow balls in autumn.
I light the prairie cornfields
Orange and tawny gold clusters
And I am called pumpkins.
On the last of October
When dusk is fallen
Children join hands
And circle round me
Singing ghost songs
And love to the harvest moon;
I am a jack-o’-lantern
With terrible teeth
And the children know
I am fooling.
Hope your Halloween is all treats. No fooling.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Amy’s the mother of two children who seem to enjoy poetry, for which she’s extremely grateful. Her first book, How I Got Lost So Close To Home, was published by Alice James Books and poems have appeared in a variety of anthologies and journals. She’s a former Associate at the Five College Women’s Studies Research Center at Mt. Holyoke College, where she looked at the impact of motherhood on the work of women poets. In addition to her life as a poet, Dryansky works for a land trust, teaches in at Hampshire College, leads workshops in the community and writes about what it’s like to navigate the territory of mother/poet/worker at her blog, Pokey Mama. Her second book, Grass Whistle, is forthcoming from Salmon Poetry in 2013.