Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Saint Pumpkin

It is now, according to the liturgical calendar of many Christian traditions, the Festival of All Saints. (Rumour has it that church officials moved it from mid-May to November 1st because Samhain and other pre-Christian seasonal observances were so compelling that the church adopted an "if you can't beat 'em, join 'em" approach.)

This day always puts me in mind of one of my favourite poets: Nancy Willard. Here is a poem of hers that--creepy and elegant by turns--draws together our seasonal folkways and the observance of Hallowmas/All Saints' Day:


Somebody's in there.
Somebody's sealed himself up
in this round room,
this hassock upholstered in rind,
this padded cell.
He believes if nothing unbinds him
he'll live forever.

Like our first room
it is dark and crowded.
Hunger knowns no tongue
to tell it.
Water is glad there.
In this room with two navels
somebody wants to be born again.

So I unlock the pumpkin.
I carve out the lid
from which the stem raises
a dry handle on a damp world.
Lifting, I pull away
wet webs, vines on which hand
the flat tears of the pumpkin,

like fingernails or the currency
of bats. How the seeds shine,
as if water had put out
hundreds of lanterns.
Hundreds of eyes in the windless wood
gaze peacefully past me,
hacking the thickets,
and now a white dew beads the blade.
Has the saint surrendered
himself to his beard?
Has his beard taken root in his cell?

Saint Pumpkin, pray for me,
because when I looked for you, I found nothing,
because unsealed and unkempt, your tomb rots,
because I gave you a false face
and a light of my own making.

--Nancy Willard, from her 1975 collection, "Household Tales of Moon and Water"


Mama Pea said...

Somebody is a fantastic pumpkin carver! Your couch is kinda lumpy though. ;o}

tom | tall clover farm said...

Couch potatos move over, the sofa pumpkins have arrived! Greetings from the Pacific Northwest!