Life Stinks: An Early Spring Poem

Blogger’s Note: It’s a rare thing that I post twice in one day, but this has been percolating in my head for a few days now. Then earlier today, my friend at the Tales from the Domestic Church blog posted on Facebook that the spring air outside her office smelled “delicious.” We’re along way from flowers here, and though I appreciate the early (or earthy) signs of spring as much as anybody, decay doesn’t smell delicious. It smells like BRAAAAAINS!

Decease and Persist
Grey clouds spit chill drizzle on blackening snow;
Bare trees creak and clatter in scattering breeze.
Last leaves of past autumn tear, tumble, and blow —
And something undead stirs below.

The preening of songbirds begins in this cold.
Spring cleaning takes root in the richness of rot.
Aroma of flesh-fertile humus and mold —
Wet corpse-fed worm-fodder of old.

A fragrance of vagrants, impure and unclean;
Stiff leavings of winter now soften and spoil.
It rises but slowly, it’s smelt before seen;
The reek gives new meaning to green.

From ’neath this foul blackness we watch it arise;
Once-dead fingers scrabble from shadowy grave.
The zombie Earth lurches, blinks dirt from its eyes —
And stretches pale limbs toward the skies.

As swiftly the drifts turn to droplets and drown
What passes for life beneath Winter’s hard thumb,
With mindless persistence and sunblinded frown —
The dead rises up from the ground!

Halloween Less of Mayhem, More of Magic

Blogger’s Note: This originally ran as a column in Tuesday, October 27, 1998, edition of The Pioneer daily newspaper, Big Rapids, Michigan. Our oldest was 11 months; he’s almost 11 now. Time flies, but as I drove home, I looked west to see the orange skies behind bare-bones trees, and got that old feeling again …

I spent the best Halloweens on Littlefield Lake in the woods between Barryton and Clare. Back then the neighborhood was less densely populated and surrounded on all sides by woods — mournful willows, tall creaking poplars, dank cedars with their long toes awash in swamp water — and Halloween night fell black as coal. The winds tossed harried handfuls of leaves high into the air; clouds blew like smoke across the sky and bare tree limbs rattled like old bones.

We all trick-or-treated together — hobos and monsters, clowns and devils. Usually my sister and I would head down the hill at dusk to the first stop; from there our motley troop would gain members until four or so stops down the way, just as darkness was setting in, we’d be marching 10 to 15 strong, going from house to house snatching candy treats from little old ladies with bluing hair and kindly old white-haired men (the result of our frightful appearances, no doubt).

Our parents followed a block or so behind, talking amongst themselves. Jack-o-lanterns grinned like skulls from nearly every porch, casting flickering shadows on the walk, and eyes wide with anticipation, we could hardly keep from running house to house.

There were those stops along the route we came away with a handful of change, or an apples, or raisins. There were those houses that sat quiet and dark, oblivious to the dread crew marauding the subdivision in search of food.

But we treated ourselves to what was given, and never tricked — unless it was to run ahead into the bushes to frighten stragglers and our parents. No TP, no window-soaping, no flaming bags of doggie-doo — our mothers were just behind us, and the final trick always belonged to them.

Halloween, for us, was a pinch more of the magical and very little mayhem. Even the fake blood and weapons were kept to a minimum — our costumes were often created at home, and violence and gore were rarely themes.

As you might imagine, then, it saddens me to see more and more families (Blogger’s Note: And schools!) celebrating “fall festivals” and neglecting Halloween. It may be a holiday founded in paganism; it may be frightening, what with the ghouls, the goblins, the “slithy toves” and the “frumious bandersnatch,” but ultimately, it is one magical evening for youngsters — like Christmas, a night when the impossible can happen.

So, with a son not yet a year old and with too few teeth for Milk Duds, I can feel Halloween come creeping. The pumpkins are carved, the candles lit, and my eyes are wide once more.

Monsterku Honors!

Some of you saw the earlier post about Adam Rex’s kaiju haiku contest. Well, he announced the winners today, and our own lil monster got an honorable mention! How cool is that?

It occurs to me that I never shared the haikus Trevor and Gabe submitted. Trevor, it turns out, speaks in 17 syllables — while I was explaining to Gabe and Bren the rules of the contest, he said:

Dad, I know what the
important thing about horned
monsters is: the horns

A few days later, Gabe wrote:

He is big and bad
He is Frankenstein, he is
He is green and stiff

I love the homespun line “He is Frankenstein, he is” — shore nuff! I’m not the least bit proud — can you tell? Thanks, Jacqui, for pointing us to Adam Rex’s site!

Serial Monsterku!

Jacqui from Jacqui’s Room, knowing my tendency to haiku without warning, referred me to Adam Rex’s kaiju (or “strange beast”) haiku contest. Gabe and Trevor each thought one up, but I couldn’t resist — I submitted three. The fourth, however, I kept for this page, because it seemed a little dark for the contest. You be the judge:

up from the village
like fireflies among brambles
torches and pitchforks

he roars his welcome
they reply in kind, but their
smiles are upside down

misunderstood wretch
a single tear slips slowly
from his stolen eye

the villagers shriek —
by firelight, red leaves among
broken scattered limbs

The Sticky Revenge of One-Eyed Jack, Part IV

The is the final installment, part four of four. To read them in order, start with part one in the Blog Archive at the right.

* * * * *

The sound of footsteps reached them from the open front door. No time, said the apparition, gliding toward the house.

Just then Sam’s mother stepped to the porch in her long coat and slippers, latching the door behind her. She entered the garage and flipped on the light. The ghost hissed his dismay—he had no desire to haunt a garage.

Listen, said Jack. Sam won’t scare easily—he’s an imaginative one; I’m sure he’s daydreamed worse than you.

The ghost hissed again, swooping close to Jack’s one eye. Jack stared, unflinching.

You saw who did this, he continued. That one deserves a good haunting, don’t you think? Do you know which house is his?

The ghost grinned hideously.

Gather my remains and take me there, and I will get you into his very bedroom, Jack said.

Swear it! said the ghost.

By my Mother Vine and the black earth, you’ll be his waking nightmare before dawn, swore Jack. Here’s the plan …

* * * * *

Moments later the ghost swooped low over Jack’s shattered remains, this time spreading like a deep shadow on the driveway until nothing could be seen. When it flew skyward, no trace of Jack remained. Sam’s mother emerged from the garage with a wide push-broom and battered snow shovel and stared at the driveway.

She was so surprised to find the pumpkin and glass shards gone that she barely registered the chill as the ghost passed quickly through her and into the garage. When at last she re-entered the garage, shaking her head, she didn’t notice the missing stapler.

* * * * *

Four houses down, soft snoring emanated from a tangle of blankets, candy wrappers, and dirty tube socks. A pale and skinny boy lay sprawled and sleeping, his blue eyes half hidden under half-closed lids. The clock on the nightstand flashed 11:53. Just then, there came a tap at the window.

The boy groaned, sat halfway up, then collapsed back on the bed.

Tap. Tap. Tap.

The boy rubbed his eyes and sat up. Who’s there?


He looked to see a dark, ill-defined shape in the window, and the lights of town shining beyond. In fact, the lights seemed to shine through the object, through a three-sided hole that was strangely familiar.

Tap, tap, tap, tap.

He untangled himself from his bedding and walked to the window, still half-asleep. What’s tapping on the window? he thought. A cat? A rat? A bird?

It was none of those things. He opened the window to see what it was.

* * * * *

The boy’s mother woke to a cold draft in the morning and assumed her son had been sneaking out of the house—on a school night, no less. “Anthony?” she called as she walked down the hall. “Are you there?” She knocked on his door. No answer. She gave an exasperated sigh and slowly opened the door. Then she screamed

The bed was empty; the window was open; and her son was gone. The bed sheets, the floor, and the window sill were smeared in sticky orange goo. Trembling uncontrollably, she stuck her head out the window and saw a trail of pumpkin remains, broken glass, and melted candle wax leading from the back to the front of the house. She rushed to the front door and threw it open. “Anthony!” she shrieked.

* * * * *

Sam’s mom broke the news about Jack to him as soon as he woke the next morning. He took it better than expected. He asked if she saw who did it, though he felt sure he knew.

Sam left for the bus stop to see blue and red lights flashing further up the street. Bryce came at a run from the same direction.

“Did you hear about Anthony?” he asked Sam breathlessly.

Sam shook his head and thought of Jack.

“They found him this morning,” said Bryce, “in his front yard.”

“Found him?” asked Sam. “What, dead?!”

Bryce shook his head. “Way better than that!” he said. “Someone stapled his pajamas to a tree with him still in them!”

Sam stopped cold. “His mom found him and screamed,” said Bryce. “There must’ve been a thousand staples! He frostbit his feet—couldn’t call for help because they stuffed a stump of candle in his mouth. He was shivering and crying and going on and on about a giant eye peering in his window. Can you imagine?”

Sam could imagine. Jack! he thought, and smiled.

* * * * *

For Bren, Gabe, Rose and Trevvy, who bring out the best (and worst!) in me.

Photo: Another of the old man’s jack-o-lanterns, 2007