When Autumn Pivots into Winter

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20171117_093517.jpgAs October slides into November, pagans experience a thinning of the veil between this world and the next. That’s why Samhain or Halloween is full of ghosts and ghouls, witches, and warlocks—and why All Soul’s Day (Nov. 1st) and La Dia de Los Muertos (Nov. 5th) follow soon after.

What is the intersection between poetry and writing for children? To me, the underlying themes of life, death, and loss are the same. With its use of metaphor and rhythms, poetry telegraphs the deepest human emotions. It cuts through extraneous verbiage and gets to the heart of being human.

In my middle-grade fantasy WIP, poetry provides language for magical creatures—both demonic and benign. Helpful sprites speak in simple iambic tetrameter, while frightening demons express themselves in more complex, anapestic rhythms—reminiscent of the galloping beat used in Edna St. Vincent Millay’s, Moriturus, a poem about death.

Poetry with its compelling rhythms roots us in time, mimics the ticking of the clock, the pounding of the heart, the silence when a poem—or a life—ends. Children instinctively understand these rhythms. I include poetry in a blog about children’s book writing because it serves as the basis of my creativity, and fuels my prose.

A few years ago, a deadly October blizzard underscored the fragility of life and inspired the following poem. Last week, after returning from 70-degree days in Aqaba, Jordan to subfreezing weather in New York City, I revised Magnolia Leaves, which appeared on my blog: Poetry: Drinking from the Well. It seemed like a good time to revisit it.

 

Magnolia Leaves

 

Magnolia leaves clatter

like salad plates

onto bluestone walkways.

Chipped and brown,

the wreckage stacks up

while we wait for spring.

 

Temperatures plummet.

Icicles smash from rooflines.

 

Winter’s coming and Elizabeth

(our magnolia hybrid) shakes

her mustard yellow skirts,

bares her mouse-brown arms,

and folds her hands quietly.

 

She will gestate, patiently, coolly,

through twelve weeks of winter.

 

Her bowl-like blossoms

(butter-yellow in April)

will unfold from tapered buds

the shape of paintbrushes.

Each branch’s tip unfurling,

like velvet origami:

tender, triumphant.

 

She will gestate, patiently, coolly,

through twelve weeks of winter.

 

Picturing those massive yellow blooms

gives us strength to see

another season through

to its conclusion.

 

Temperatures plummet.

Icicles smash from rooflines.

 

In Buffalo, nine feet of snow fell

over three days. Twelve people died—

frozen in cars, or crushed

under buckled roofs.

Whole nursing homes evacuated.

 

Picturing those massive yellow blooms

gives us strength to see

another season through

to its conclusion.

 

Not everyone makes it to spring.

But I hope we do.

 

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A magnolia tree illustrates the uncertainty of life and death and the hoped-for rebirth of Spring. How do you deal with mortality? Are there particular metaphors you use to describe the cycle of life?

Please leave comments below. I’d love to hear from you!

 

Ghosts and Ghouls: Why this Brooklyn neighborhood goes crazy for Halloween

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Every year, Park Slope goes nuts for Halloween. Residents decorate stoops and houses with pumpkins and ghosts, witches and ghouls–the half-dead and the haunted.

Thirty years ago, when I first moved to this neighborhood, I was struck by all the quirky, homespun Halloween decorations that sprang up like mushrooms in early October. My favorite decorations were always the ones that local residents dug out of their dark imaginations. Like Darth Vader draped over a gas lantern, its hollow eyes spookily glowing; and the handpainted tombstones in a front areaway announcing the death, resurrection, and final resting spot of its occupant.20171012_163817.jpg

This year, I thought some more about why Park Slope is so enamored of Halloween. To begin with, there’s the obvious presence of families and children, of artists, writers, and musicians; and the less obvious presence of Wiccans and clairvoyants and of longtime residents with memories stretching back generations. After living here long enough, I’ve heard tell of spirits that move among us. More sensitive neighbors have reported ghosts wandering bloodied and bandaged in Long Meadow, or staring ghoulishly at night from the top floor windows of Litchfield Villa.

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A cursory internet research on “Ghosts of Park Slope” confirmed what I’d already suspected. The casualties of war–both the Battle of Brooklyn fought on this soil, and the Civil War, which left many families grief-stricken when young sons were lost–may well account for both the ghostly activity in Park Slope and for our enduring fascination with Halloween in this Brooklyn neighborhood.

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How do you celebrate Halloween in your neighborhood?

Thanks for stopping by. Please leave a comment.

I’d love to hear what you think.