Double, double toil and trouble; Fire burn and caldron bubble. Fillet of a fenny snake, In the caldron boil and bake; Eye of newt and toe of frog, Wool of bat and tongue of dog, Adder’s fork and blind-worm’s sting, Lizard’s leg and howlet’s wing, For a charm of powerful trouble, Like a hell-broth boil and bubble.
Double, double toil and trouble; Fire burn and caldron bubble. Cool it with a baboon’s blood, Then the charm is firm and good
Something’s missing from the spirit of Halloween this year – oh that’s right – the fun. COVID 19 has kicked the proverbial stuffing out of the concept of having fun this year. I like Halloween. I enjoy having neighborhood kids come to my door and meet and greet parents throughout the night. I like the voluntary community spirit Halloween brings forth and the excitement of little children getting candy. What’s not to like about ghouls and goblin’s, witches and princesses, werewolves, clowns, monsters and super heroes visiting you with a big smile on their face. It pains me to be turning off my light this year, to not carve a pumpkin and generally ignore Halloween all under the guise of being responsible. When did responsibility have anything to do with a holiday that enables children to overdose on sugar?
On top of the just plain disappointment in general of turning my back on Halloween it’s the fact that this year is the perfect storm of total Halloweeness – it’s on a Saturday night with a full moon. Even in this current predicament, we should all feel compelled to go out and do a little howling. I’ll have to settle for making pumpkin bread and eating my mini Peanut M and M bags and mini Mounds bars in the dark.
Halloween is supposed to be a little bit campy, a little bit scary and a little bit naughty all rolled into one fun sized holiday, something Elvira, Mistress of the Dark, does well. So – if you are in need of a Halloween fun infusion, check out Elvira’s video below – singing her hit single (or is it a double?) – 2 Big Pumpkins. Happy Halloween!
By Kenn Nesbitt
We’re having a Halloween party at school. I’m dressed up like Dracula. Man, I look cool! I dyed my hair black, and I cut off my bangs. I’m wearing a cape and some fake plastic fangs.
I put on some makeup to paint my face white, like creatures that only come out in the night. My fingernails, too, are all pointed and red. I look like I’m recently back from the dead.
My mom drops me off, and I run into school and suddenly feel like the world’s biggest fool. The other kids stare like I’m some kind of freak— the Halloween party is not till next week.
The golden days of late October fade As bleak November’s iron skies descend. When tresses, like the leaden clouds, have greyed, We see our fruitful time’s approaching end. The sunshine that besieged us with its heat Now leans against the south walls, cold and tired. There is no empire time will not defeat; Each Golden Age that flared has soon expired. Byzantium lies silent under steel, Persepolis has crumbled back to dust. Despite the wistful longing we might feel, All times of summer fade, as fade they must. Embrace what time remains; it will not last. Your autumn, too, will soon be ancient past.
One of the challenges of starting a new relationship in my 50’s is what to do with all the stuff each person has accumulated over the years? This is a joint problem of considerable size and proportions. The first problem is duplication, we both have many of the same things it takes to run a household, everything from towels to vacuum cleaners to kitchen utensils. Sometimes its an upgrade. My girl friend’s set of tools is far superior to my own and so it didn’t take much for me to got rid of a bunch of mine that were old, subpar or worn out. But sometimes what to keep and what to purge can turn into a bit of a tug of war, each partner not ready to let go of certain things and both a bit unsteady in what to support and when to throw the red objection flag on the other.
The second problem is sheer amount of stuff and where does it all possibly go? I have decided that renting a storage unit to kick that can down the road is a sketchy idea at best, and neither is buying a shipping container or building a pole barn to increase capacity for storage a great solution. There are too many things that go into storage never to reappear and if I am not diligent about getting rid of stuff, I will only create time bombs filled with dusty, rusty junk for my children to sort through after I am dead. None the less I have delayed several tough decisions for one year by taking the cowards way out and getting a storage unit for a reduced but still sizable chunk of my possessions that I did not get rid of in my most recent move. I am consciously aware it is a $110/dollar a month guilt tax to insure I have a holding pen for stuff I didn’t need this year and probably won’t next, until I screw up the resolve to get finally rid of it.
The third problem is each person has different attachments for different reasons to different things that are irreplaceable, sentimental or just stuff that you have grown attached to over the years simply because it is tied to pleasant moments in our lives. What one sees as valuable treasure the other may mistakenly see as junk and before you know it feelings are hurt when someone questions why we have combined between the two of us 10 aluminum water bottles in a drawer, when probably something like 4 or 5 would suffice.
Most people have things of sentimental value, its part of who what makes us human. These objects are signposts of our journey. It makes total sense to the person who has kept these nostalgic things, but at some point you have to fit two households into one and practicality has to influence sentiment and common sense has to kick in.
I have found this process of decluttering is made even more complicated by being the gate keepers of our dying parents estates. We are at that age and because over the years divorces have added to the incremental number of households that executors must settle it can add up. In our situation, two empty nesters that are nearly 60 somethings are grappling with the contents of not just two households worth of stuff but four or five. And, because we are related to interesting people and artists, there is lots and lots of cool stuff which is hard to part with or do it justice for the value it once represented in our loved one’s minds. Four years after my mother’s death I was still sorting boxes a month ago that I had put off prior, unsure of what to do with their contents. In the end, I threw almost all of it out, and what I didn’t throw out, I knew in the back of my mind, I was just repeating the cycle again, synthesizing eight boxes down to one, that I would eventually discard, I just wasn’t ready to do it on that day of sorting.
All of this is a bit overwhelming, the actually physically dealing with it and the emotional side of it all. Particularly when the decision process between two partners is slightly different in how to approach the challenge of simplification. Slash and burn, figuratively and in some cases literally, doesn’t work well because there are always a few bones smoldering in the embers that one of you will likely come to regret. Taking an archivist approach and lovingly storing and restoring things I have found can be equally disappointing, except for the most quirky or exceptional of memorabilia and possessions. I learned this lesson the hard way. I took the time to re-record into digital mp3 files all of the children’s books that my mother had narrated onto cassette tapes over the years as gifts for my children, tapes that we had listened to over and over and over when my kids were growing up and even into adulthood. The Christmas after her death I thought everyone would enjoy having a copy and it would be a way to prevent them from deteriorating further. Yet when the long project was finally finished and everyone was given a memory stick with all the files included, it felt oddly creepy and unsatisfying. The stories weren’t the same now that my Mother was no longer alive, and to hear her voice widened the gap in death, it didn’t shorten it. I know that I haven’t yet gotten enjoyment out of listening to them. I hope someone else has. Maybe someday I will feel differently and stumble across them again on my google cloud and listen to my mother’s read those wonderful stories and take pleasure in the sound of her voice, but for now, it is a cautionary tale on what I thought I would want in the future, may have turned out to be just fools gold weighing me down.
by Donald Hall
When I walk in my house I see pictures, bought long ago, framed and hanging —de Kooning, Arp, Laurencin, Henry Moore— that I’ve cherished and stared at for years, yet my eyes keep returning to the masters of the trivial—a white stone perfectly round, tiny lead models of baseball players, a cowbell, a broken great-grandmother’s rocker, a dead dog’s toy—valueless, unforgettable detritus that my children will throw away as I did my mother’s souvenirs of trips with my dead father, Kodaks of kittens, and bundles of cards from her mother Kate.
I died as a mineral and became a plant, I died as plant and became animal, I died as animal and I was human. Why should I fear? When was I less by dying? Yet once more I shall die, to soar With angels blest; but even from angelhood I must pass on: all except God perishes. Only when I have given up my angel-soul, Shall I become what no mind has ever conceived. Oh, let me not exist! for Non-existence Proclaims in organ tones, To God we shall return.
If you google this quote from Rumi you will find many different English translations but rarely the entire passage from which it comes. This has been a favorite of mine from Rumi for many years. I discovered it during a focused time of spiritual re-awakening that coincided with a period of some of my most productive creative writing.
I wrote Noble Light in the fall of 2014 and it was one of two poems that unknowingly at the time, formed my jumping off point into what has become my obsession with sonnets. You could say Noble Light was my gate way drug. Obviously it is not a sonnet, but this poem was one of the most difficult I have ever written. I had dozens of drafts that I worked on for over a month that eventually I came to the realize, was actually two poems, not one. Once I dissected the lines and phrases and ideas into their respective corners, each poem on its own came together rather quickly. The other poem, also a poem of forgiveness, vaguely resembles a sonnet and Noble Light typical of my free verse, has just a tinge of rhyme to help the flow.
Back in those days, I would often share a finished draft of a new poem with my Mother via email as part of our daily correspondence. She often had interesting insights or suggestions for edits that made my writing better. It was fun to share with her the thrill of creativity and our mutual love of poetry. At that time I was writing so prodigiously I rarely went back to reread what I had written earlier, I filed poems away in the cloud of my little google Chromebook and moved on to the next poem and the next and the next. And so it surprised me a year later on one of our poetry nights, where each of us brought 4 to 5 poems to read, always from other poets not our original work, that she surprised me by selecting Noble Light to read back to me as one of her current favorites. I was honored and after she read it she shared her perspective of why this poem resonated with her. During that conversation, I made the mental connection between what was at the heart of my poem and some of the ideas in Rumi’s poem above, connections that were not obvious to me at the time I wrote it but were suddenly clear.
The next spring my Mother suffered a severe heart attack and wound up in two weeks of rehab following 10 days in the ICU and hospital. It was a long slow recovery. I visited her as often as possible and usually brought poetry. It became a regular ritual for her to ask at some point during our conversation and visit, “please read Nobel Light.” I am not sure how she in that moment connected to the whole of the poem, but the line; But next spring, buds shall swell with longing to be green again, resonated with what she was clinging to in that moment of recovery – hope, a hope that could carry her to wellness and be green again. It was humbling to have a line of my poetry mean that much to my Mother and I was pleased that she never tired of hearing me read it to her. I don’t revisit this poem very often since her death, but every fall, when I am on a walk and encounter popular leaves rattling their sacred song high in the canopy of the forest’s arched cathedral, I think of her and this poem. Happy Birthday Mom.
by T. A. Fry
In October, when infinite shades of red, orange, green and yellow burn bright against a brilliant sky; Bathing everything in noble light Do you pause in wonder?
Do you close your eyes And listen to leathery poplar leaves high in the canopy rattle a sacred song?
In that moment if you are drawn to forgiveness, what do you put asunder?
When the wounded deer bounded across our path as we walked in the forest’s arched cathedral; I could not hear absolution in the crow’s caw to the wolves.
But next spring, buds shall swell With longing to be green again. The winter’s snow will melt and sanctify All remains obscured in these woods.
And the warmth of spring renewal Will release countless bleached bones From their sepulcher of snow. To emerge cleansed to bask Swaddled in hallowed leaves.
Already I am no longer looked at with lechery or love. My daughters and sons have put me away with marbles and dolls, Are gone from the house. My husband and lovers are pleasant or somewhat polite And night is night.
It is a real chill out, The genuine thing. I am not deceived, I do not think it is still summer Because sun stays and birds continue to sing.
It is a real chill out. The fall crisp comes. I am aware there is winter to heed. There is no warm house That is fitted with my need. I am cold in this cold house this house Whose washed echoes are tremulous down lost halls. I am a woman, and dusty, standing among new affairs. I am a woman who hurries through her prayers.
Winter announced itself uninvited on October 20 this year, nearly a month before we were expecting it. Six inches of cold wet snow fell and unlike usual October snow falls, didn’t have the decency to melt the next day. Even hardy Minnesotans that rave about their enjoyment of winter activities look at this snow a bit eschew thinking “I really do enjoy your company but you could at least let me clean up the place before you arrived for Thanksgiving.” I was in denial that the winter snow warning was real, but finally had to admit it and went out and finished raking and bagging my back yard leaves just minutes before the flakes began to fall.
The start of winter this early, means the start of the heating season nearly a month sooner, so the furnace has come rumbling to life once again. Houses have their own heat signature irrespective of insulation and R values, quality of construction or size or type of furnace. It takes a while to understand how a new house reacts to your presence, your nosing about in its nooks and crannies, cooking and showering, leaving doors open or closed, frequent use off certain rooms, disdain for others.
What if my favorite room is the house’s least? What a let down I would be. I think houses sometimes don’t appreciate their new tenants for a while, sending cold drafts under the table to freeze my feet or baking me in the second floor in summer. Eventually things simmer down as each learns about the other’s habits. We are as much room mates with our rooms as we are with our mates.
I hope this new house is getting used to me. I am learning its creaks and sighs in the middle of the night, figuring out its preferences for which doors to leave open and which to close. The house is enthusiastically encouraging my frequent cooking, warming the entire downstairs when the stove is in use during fall and winter. It cringes at my criticisms of the repairs that are needed and blushes proudly when I admire its finer features. A house that is empty ages quickly into rack and ruin while houses that are lived in remain youthful and energetic. If you are cold, in your cold house, light a fire, in both of your hearts and invite someone to sit down and have a cup of tea and relax by your hearth.
The Night Migrations
by Louise Gluck
This is the moment when you see again the red berries of the mountain ash and in the dark sky the birds’ night migrations.
It grieves me to think the dead won’t see them— these things we depend on, they disappear.
What will the soul do for solace then? I tell myself maybe it won’t need these pleasures anymore; maybe just not being is simply enough, hard as that is to imagine.
I never mentioned my friends in my poems at the time I wrote The Circus Although they meant almost more than anything to me Of this now for some time I’ve felt an attenuation So I’m mentioning them maybe this will bring them back to me Not them perhaps but what I felt about them John Ashbery Jane Freilicher Larry Rivers Frank O’Hara Their names alone bring tears to my eyes As seeing Polly did last night It is beautiful at any time but the paradox is leaving it In order to feel it when you’ve come back the sun has declined And the people are merrier or else they’ve gone home altogether And you are left alone well you put up with that your sureness is like the sun While you have it but when you don’t its lack’s a black and icy night. I came home And wrote The Circus that night, Janice. I didn’t come and speak to you And put my arm around you and ask you if you’d like to take a walk Or go to the Cirque Medrano though that’s what I wrote poems about And am writing about that now, and now I’m alone
And this is not as good a poem as The Circus And I wonder if any good will come of either of them all the same.
I had one of those serendipitous adventures last weekend that was unplanned but pleasantly not unexpected. I headed off to meet my partner who was camping in southern Wisconsin and we wound up hiking several days around Lacrosse and points north. She had lived and worked in Trempealeau county Wisconsin 35 years ago and she took me to revisit some of her favorite outdoor haunts. We went on several breath taking hikes with great views of the forest bluffs, surrounding valleys and the Mississippi river.
Making our way back towards Minneapolis late Sunday afternoon we decided to stretch our legs for a minute before heading the last bit home in the dark. We stopped in Durand, Wisconsin which is on the banks of the Chippewa River. As I walked up the deserted river walk that was behind the storefronts on main street I saw a sign on the back of a bar that advertised canoe rentals. We decided to poke our heads around front to get more information for next summer.
This was a classic small town bar/grill with a group of regulars watching the Packers game on the big screen in the bar. The restaurant area was empty and as we were the only two wearing masks and Wisconsin COVID is sky rocketing we grabbed a high top well away from everyone else. Our information mission with the waitress turned into the munchies when I spied the fried chicken with home made stuffing special on the black board and we settled down to a Spotted Cow (great local beer) and a bite of dinner. The owner stopped over for a socially distanced chat and update us on canoe rentals. As we were wrapping up and getting ready to leave, he stopped by again and said, “Did you see the circus poster, people come from all over the world to see it.” We said, “What?”
He proceeded to take us through the adjoining building into a banquet area complete with its own original wood saloon and ornate tin ceiling. It was entirely empty. He turned on the lights and there under glass, running the entire length of the side of the building opposite the bar from floor to ceiling was a paper lithograph poster of a circus that had come to town in August of 1884, the Great Anglo-American Circus. The star and owner of the circus was Miles Orton, the preeminent acrobatic equestrian of his day. The poster is incredible, both in its miraculous state of preservation, but also the incredible detail and quality of the colors. The bar owner had been the one to discover it while cutting in a hole to form the door we had just walked through when they had acquired the building in 2015 to expand their restaurant business. He proceeded to give us a half hour private lecture on the fascinating history of the circus and the preservation process that in the end, he and his sisters lovingly undertook all on their own. The entire experience was magical. It is a great example of you never know what you are going to discover in any town in America. What makes his find one of a kind, is the poster was made and applied with the intent it would only last a few weeks. It is by pure chance that the neighboring building sprung up and was built so quickly, encasing it between two walls following the circus coming through town, allowed for it to be waiting in the dark to be discovered 130 years later.
You can read more about the history of the discovery of the poster and just how a unique set of circumstances allowed it to be preserved all these years in the article below. If you are ever traveling through central Wisconsin, stop in to the Corral Bar, have a delicious bite to eat, drink a Spotted Cow and go see the circus poster in the Orton Room!
we could send you out there to join the cackle squad, but hey, that highly accomplished, thinly regarded equestrian—well there was no way he was going to join the others’ field trip. Wouldn’t put his head on the table. But here’s the thing:
They had owned great dread, knew of a way to get away from here through ice and smoke always clutching her fingers, like it says to do.
Once we were passionate about the police, yawned in the teeth of pixels, but a far rumor blanked us out. We bathed in moonshine. Now, experts disagree. Were we unhappy or sublime? We’ll have to wait until the next time an angel comes rapping at the door to rejoice docently.
He says he doesn’t feel like working today. It’s just as well. Here in the shade Behind the house, protected from street noises, One can go over all kinds of old feeling, Throw some away, keep others. The wordplay Between us gets very intense when there are Fewer feelings around to confuse things. Another go-round? No, but the last things You always find to say are charming, and rescue me Before the night does. We are afloat On our dreams as on a barge made of ice, Shot through with questions and fissures of starlight That keep us awake, thinking about the dreams As they are happening. Some occurrence. You said it.
I said it but I can hide it. But I choose not to. Thank you. You are a very pleasant person. Thank you. You are too.
Passing the Frontier
By Pierre Martory
Translated by John Ashbery
The yellow line could be seen for as long a time As the highway desired And if you fell asleep at the wheel It fulgurated in the dozing soul Like a brutal revelation That allows you not to feel In the dream’s snapshot Your brain getting smashed Against the milestone or the windshield
It was an ideal line Crowned with horizontal blue That unwound day after day Like a clothesline Flags and scalps and washed-out roses Our countries our combats our wars Mingling lassitude with involuntary starts A gymnastic in disorder That sickened our hearts
The advantage of poetry over life is that poetry, if it is sharp enough, may last.
by Louise Gluck
Is it winter again, is it cold again, didn’t Frank just slip on the ice, didn’t he heal, weren’t the spring seeds planted
didn’t the night end, didn’t the melting ice flood the narrow gutters
wasn’t my body rescued, wasn’t it safe
didn’t the scar form, invisible above the injury
terror and cold, didn’t they just end, wasn’t the back garden harrowed and planted—
I remember how the earth felt, red and dense, in stiff rows, weren’t the seeds planted, didn’t vines climb the south wall
I can’t hear your voice for the wind’s cries, whistling over the bare ground
I no longer care what sound it makes
when was I silenced, when did it first seem pointless to describe that sound
what it sounds like can’t change what it is—
didn’t the night end, wasn’t the earth safe when it was planted
didn’t we plant the seeds, weren’t we necessary to the earth,
the vines, were they harvested
When Louise Glück won the 2020 Nobel prize a couple of weeks ago I went, who? It shows my amateur status in literary knowledge that I had never heard of her because they don’t hand out Nobel awards to hacks and rookies. Or do they? Does winning a major award cement your status as a Poet with a capitol P? Not in my opinion. There are no capitol P poets, only capitol P poems and lines of poems and fragments of lines of poems. Capital P’s don’t last very long, they are a sign of their times and tend to fade to lower case through the years.
My love of poetry has nothing to do with literary criticism or awards bestowed on authors, because as I look back on the Nobel award more than 60 years ago, the only people even up for consideration were white men. What is the legacy of awards and their significance when only a tiny minority of poets writing poetry were even considered not that long ago? If a Nobel prize means less 50 years ago, then is it more significant today because women and people of color are taken more seriously in the award’s process or even rise to the top to win?
I don’t know the answers to these questions, but the good thing about the announcement is that it prodded me to google Ms. Gluck and read some of her poetry. Enjoyable, hearty, thought provoking fair, I will seek out more of her voice and pay attention when I see her name. Congratulations!
by Louise Gluck
Speak to me, aching heart: what Ridiculous errand are you inventing for yourself Weeping in the dark garage With your sack of garbage: it is not your job To take out the garbage, it is your job To empty the dishwasher. You are showing off Again, Exactly as you did in childhood–where Is your sporting side, your famous Ironic detachment? A little moonlight hits The broken window, a little summer moonlight, Tender Murmurs from the earth with its ready Sweetnesses– Is this the way you communicate With your husband, not answering When he calls, or is this the way the heart Behaves when it grieves: it wants to be Alone with the garbage? If I were you, I’d think ahead. After fifteen years, His voice could be getting tired; some night If you don’t answer, someone else will answer.
And were an epitaph to be my story I’d have a short one ready for my own. I would have written of me on my stone: I had a lover’s quarrel with the world.
By Robert Frost
O hushed October morning mild, Thy leaves have ripened to the fall; Tomorrow’s wind, if it be wild, Should waste them all. The crows above the forest call; Tomorrow they may form and go. O hushed October morning mild, Begin the hours of this day slow. Make the day seem to us less brief. Hearts not averse to being beguiled, Beguile us in the way you know. Release one leaf at break of day; At noon release another leaf; One from our trees, one far away. Retard the sun with gentle mist; Enchant the land with amethyst. Slow, slow! For the grapes’ sake, if they were all, Whose leaves already are burnt with frost, Whose clustered fruit must else be lost— For the grapes’ sake along the wall.
Today is likely one of the last mild days of fall, temperatures still in the mid 60’s but with a forecast of much colder air descending into Minnesota tomorrow and it then staying colder for the foreseeable 10 day forecast. There will still be likely one or two pleasant days ahead, but days you can leave the house without a jacket again are likely 5 months away.
There is something more precious in my appreciation of October warm days than there is of the first burst of spring. It feels like spring warmth comes in abundance, while the ever shortening days and longer colder nights of fall make me savor the last warm rays of sunshine. Poetry with fall themes tend be more serious than the poetry of spring, fall is a time for reflection not love sick jocularity.. Fall poetry tends to look backwards over the road just travelled, contemplative and reserved. What’s your favorite time of year? Do you have a favorite fall poem?
by Paul Lawrence Dunbar
October is the treasurer of the year, And all the months pay bounty to her store; The fields and orchards still their tribute bear, And fill her brimming coffers more and more. But she, with youthful lavishness, Spends all her wealth in gaudy dress, And decks herself in garments bold Of scarlet, purple, red, and gold. She heedeth not how swift the hours fly, But smiles and sings her happy life along; She only sees above a shining sky; She only hears the breezes’ voice in song. Her garments trail the woodlands through, And gather pearls of early dew That sparkle, till the roguish Sun Creeps up and steals them every one. But what cares she that jewels should be lost, When all of Nature’s bounteous wealth is hers? Though princely fortunes may have been their cost, Not one regret her calm demeanor stirs. Whole-hearted, happy, careless, free, She lives her life out joyously, Nor cares when Frost stalks o’er her way And turns her auburn locks to gray.