Friday, October 27, 2006


Over at The Inner Minx there's a contest going on for poems about Samhain. I contributed the following:

come see: how quietly they move through the stones.
parchment fingers rustling their leaf tambourines.
the dew is on the grass. their feet, in all their wanderings, do not touch.
they float above the earth, or dissolve near to it, into it.
their compass rose is of the greater earth: these leaves fall through them.

we rise up out of the very fields we tilled: these cemeteries, plowed anew.
every year, the miracle of wheat. sweep the garden for next year’s roses.
snow falls around us, whitens our scalps: no summer’s day outruns us.
shake the leaves off the headstone: a million butterflies take wing.
the ash tree whispers: home: we’ve come home.

Now that I'm back in the Upper Midwest, after being in the Southwest and California the past few years, I'm appreciating the changing of the seasons: the color of the sky in October (when it's clear, not raining, which is all it's been doing lately), the rustle of fallen leaves on the lawn, the colors of autumn trees, the crisp air on the morning after the first hard frost. A fairy ring of mushrooms appeared in the woods just north of our house, a few weeks ago.

Samhain is a favorite festival of mine, and a favorite time of year. There is always mystery in the air. (Susan Howatch in her Starbridge series of novels formulates the dynamic balance of tensions in modern religion, namely, the Church of England, as having three poles: liberal; conservative; and the Middle Way of mysticism. I find this a congenial model, although I am not a member of the Church of England. I am most definitely of the mystic path, more than the other two, however.) The smell of burning leaves, and decaying vegetable matter. The walls between the worlds thin, and one can hear the voices of the ancestors more readily than usual. It's the Day of the Dead. All Hallow's. Hallowe'en. Samhain. All Saint's Eve.

This time of year always bring a poem out of me. The above poem is a revision of two earlier fragments, which suddenly seemed to fit together, just now. Many of the older poems on this topic are not very good. Here's one more poem, which to me feels related to this time of year, implicitly, if not explicitly.

darkness prayer

I want to live
in the welcoming darkness—
to cook and eat by firelight,
to write by the full moon’s beacon,
to read the shape of the road in its shadows,
to keep fireflies in a jar as my bedside lamp.

I want to dream
at sunset of starlight
and firelight and noonlight—
pine boughs wrapping the tombs of kings
under their biers of logs,
tapestries of ravens filling the air like nightfall

take me to the silence,
that place beyond names,
beyond the cold light of dawn—
there, shadows will flick their cloaks
free of the wet leaves of autumn
and pin jeweled fireflies to their collars,
and walk out into the road, unafraid,
the insignia of the light
worn by the heart of darkness

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