When I married Glen, I had never carved my own pumpkin. It was more than twenty years after that last Halloween with my father (see October 20th’s post, “The Golden Rule + Faith in Humanity ≠ Halloween” ), but I’d never worked up the nerve to do it myself. Maybe watching Iron Pants sculpt his masterpiece created a mystique that intimidated me, but in any case, I had no idea how to go about it. Stabbing a hard squash with knives seemed kind of dangerous, as if things could go wrong in an instant. So as Glen’s and my first Halloween together drew near, I confided to him my lack of pumpkin-carving experience. Within a day we were driving in to town (we lived outside of Austin in New Sweden at the time—our one previous brush with country living) to purchase a jack-o’-lantern pumpkin for each of us to carve. By the time I started scooping out the insides, I knew I was already having fun.
We made a good start that first year, but despite good intentions, we didn’t carve pumpkins every Halloween. It wasn’t until nine years later, when Katie was about 5, that it became entrenched as an annual family tradition. Then by the time she was in middle school, she and I had taken most of the responsibility for the project, scouting likely-looking churchyards and farmers’ markets every fall for the season’s best pumpkins. We had a quest, and we took it seriously. Our standard output was three jack-o’-lanterns per Halloween, and weeks beforehand we’d start tossing around artistic ideas and begin making (very) rough sketches. (Stencils were considered cheating.) Some of the more interesting designs we executed were:
• A Cyclops
• A pirate
• Falling leaves
• An odd, Aztec calendar-type mandala
• A dapper gentleman in a fez
• Gyrados, a Pokémon sea dragon character
Then, in 2006, our carving came to an abrupt halt. My pumpkin partner went off to college.
Glen and I meant to keep up the tradition. We bought pumpkins every year. And every year they sat on the hearth, then eventually on the Thanksgiving table, looking orange and unscathed. Uncarved pumpkins last a long time if you choose them wisely. One December I bought a glue gun and went all Martha Stewart-esque. I balled up wads of different Christmas wrapping papers and hot-glued them over every inch of an especially persistent pumpkin, turning it into a huge, crinkly Christmas tree ornament. Then I did a tablescape around it. Yes, it looked very . . . tasteful and elegant. Why would you ask that?
So here we are in 2016, and it’s almost Halloween again. As usual, I started talking about my carving intentions well before October, even playing around with a few ideas.
But this time, I followed through.
I’ve breached the hull. It’s ruined for Thanksgiving now. Might as well go on.
Since I didn’t have the foresight to buy a cheap, plastic carving kit at the grocery store, this is what I used:
The knives are plenty sharp, but lack subtlety. It was like carving with a baseball bat. They got the job done, though.
And to accompany the photo of the candlelit final product at the bottom, I offer my poem “All Hallows.” It first appeared in the online journal Melancholy Hyperbole October 26th, 2013, and the journal’s editors later honored it with a Best of the Net nomination. Perhaps just as thrilling is that, on Halloween day of that year, the blogging platform WordPress (which Melancholy Hyperbole uses, as do I, for susanrooke.net) featured “All Hallows” on Freshly Pressed as a WordPress.com editors' pick. As Freshly Pressed editor Ben Huberman very kindly said, “All seasonal poetry better hang its collective head in shame, because I think Susan Rooke's poem just cornered the market on Halloween with this piece. Writing this potent and compelling clearly deserves a wider audience.” Thank you again, Ben! Read it below, and find it online (with the accompanying comments) here.
The air smells black, like burnt
matches, like candlewicks.
The moon a polished silver
doorknob. It’s bitter, a chocolate
night. We dance along the street
like fallen leaves. Whispers
spark and snap from hollow trees.
We hear a sound like seeds
snickering in the dry heart
of a gourd, too late sense that some
monstrous thing has taken form
and comes clattering behind.
From dreams I know it: tall,
with gabled shoulders, blood-slick,
too many bones. A belly slack
with need. We’ve hunted up
and down these streets tonight,
filled our bags at bright porches,
doors opened in a burst of light.
Now something hunts for us.
Smoke frosts the moon.
The trees are gallows from which
shadows hang. I turn to run,
feel what might be horns against
my back. May I be faster than
my friends, I pray, may I outstrip
what comes to claim the night.
Let not this darkness take me.
Please, let it take the hindmost.
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