“Gunpowder Plots”

From my 2014 collection Autumn Lauds, here’s a poem that takes a different perspective onto “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow.”

 

Gunpowder Plots

He’s shagged and gaunt, has one eye ghosted over,
Hasn’t pulled a plow or done more than plod in years.
Yet every lazy day his mind races back to that midnight dash,
To the horrid goblin that gave such determined pursuit.
His own panic at the time rendered his course erratic;
He’d defied direction from his whip-happy, rib-kicking rider.
Unsaddled, the lanky man had struggled to remain mounted
But was shortly knocked headlong by braining gourd.

That hapless horseman has been long lost,
But his equine hope for a second endeavor never so.
If somehow he could escape the confines of this farm,
He would search every last stretch of the Hollow for
The black steed and its head-lacking commander,
And draw them back into chase toward the church bridge.
This time he wouldn’t let up until the other beast was
Completely outdistanced, left choking the dust of utter defeat.

With memory and reverie blinkering his mind’s eye,
He fails to note the approach of his owner, Van Ripper,
Who has rue in his look, and a pistol in his fist.
Old Gunpowder is blindsided by the fired shot;
The eponymous explosive scorches his wounded hide.
Still, he is unwilling to abandon his equestrian quest.
Destroyed but not dispirited, he’s off and running
Even as his sorry carcass keels to the ground.

 

Lauding Autumn Once Again

Season’s bleedings–I mean greetings–to all the residents of our Macabre Republic. The greatest month of the year has arrived at last! I have a lot of fun stuff planned for this blog all October long as we approach the High Holiday, but thought I would start out by sharing a couple of pieces from my 2014 collection Autumn Lauds: Poems for the Halloween Season.

For more on this book, check out the dedicated page here on my website. And for a further sampling of its assorted treats, you can dig into the past posts of these poems: “Ulalume II,” “Fourteen Ways of Looking at Fall Foliage,” “Octoberzest,” selections from the Angry Villager Anthology, and “Shock Treatment.”

 

Corn Maze

By Joe Nazare

 

Immersive map of autumn,
Sketched by a pictographic tractor
On a sprawling canvas of lank stalks.

Apt metaphor for everyday life:
Byplay of determining paths and personal choice;
Blockages, backtracks, fortuitous turns.

Variously atmospheric, serving as a
Site of rural frolic or nocturnal fright,
Family-friendly agritainment or American Gothic haunt.

Story evoker: the vegetal surround a potential shelter of Shoeless Joe;
Malachi, Isaac, and their idolatrous adolescent ilk;
The annual October Boy, reborn to run a gauntlet of seasonal sacrifice.

A magical labyrinth, no matter what,
Where myriad navigators can succeed in getting lost
Even as they see their way clear.

 

 

Opposing the Joneses

By Joe Nazare

 

Resplendent adornment.
A façade boasting a macabre makeover,
A front yard littered with grim imaginings.
Each piece a welcome mat placed weeks in advance,
Beckoning the costumed to the doorstep on the 31st.

Adjacent starkness.
House and lawn kept spectacle-free,
Either due to religious inclination or simple disdain.
No orange lights, no dark tableaux,
Nary a pumpkin or corn stalk on the porch.

October transforms, and not only leaves into deserters:
It turns private properties into public statements.
Edifices, like architectural versions of face-painting fans,
Identify themselves by the colors they choose to sport.

Because to decorate–or to refrain–is
To declare affiliation, form alliance even with those unknown.
This holiday of masquerade actually unveils one’s true neighbors;
At Halloween, it’s the spirits of the living that grow visible.

 

Occult Beverages

An original poem toasting all those with a thirst for mischief here on the eve of Halloween…

 

Occult Beverages

By Joe Nazare

 

Six tips for homely brewers in the late October:

Go for potency always
Attempting to level most is level best

Disregard freshness
Moldering ingredients will only improve this batch

Stir religiously
Being careful not to burn over an open flame

Pour straight from pot to goblet
Chilling before serving gets the order wrong

Garnish garishly
Skewered eye of newt is quite catching

Lastly, savor their every moue of distaste
After all your toil and trouble, you can sit back for a spell

 

Shock Treatment

The Universal monsters are not only ingrained in pop culture; they have become an indisputable staple of the Halloween season. A large part of their legacy was assured a little over half a century ago, with the advent of Shock Theater (a package of classic horror films brought to television syndication by Screen Gems). The following poem (from my collection Autumn Lauds) was written to commemorate this wondrous moment in the history of monster-movie viewing.

 

Shock Treatment

Home invasions welcomed each weekend

Screen Gems gleaming in black and white

Legendary wretches on late-night display

Heralded scenes seen for yourself at last

Frankenstein’s Monster getting a stormy inception

Old Imhotep set lumbering by the Scroll of Thoth

Lawrence Talbot turning darksome when the autumn moon is bright

Bandaged Jack Griffin proving indiscernible in dishabille

Dracula descending the massive castle staircase, candle in hand

All framed by the ghoul humor of Roland

Seminal influence of the syndicated

A Universal renaissance in October ’57

An entire generation of monsterkids born

 

Angry Villager Vocals

My 2014 collection Autumn Lauds: Poems for the Halloween Season consists of two sections gathering 31 selections each. The first, “Miscellaneous Praise,” features various Halloween-themed poems, while the second, “Angry Villager Anthology” is structured as a sequence (think of it as a long, 31-part poem). Here’s the brief introduction I wrote for the second section, along with a sampling of poems from throughout the anthology.

Nearly a century after its first publication, Edgar Lee Masters’ Spoon River Anthology (1915) remains the premier collection of American Gothic verse. This sequence of interconnecting and sometimes contradicting monologues (presented as epitaphs voiced by the deceased inhabitants of Spoon River’s cemetery) sheds life on the dark underbelly of everyday life, exposes the secrets and scandals of a small Midwestern town. Angry Villager Anthology forms my autumnal answer to Masters, an attempt to show that when it comes to dark-heartedness, Spoon River has nothing on the community of Grantwood.

 

Mischievous

The Mob

C’mon Tom, Charlie, Emory, and Frank,
Rupert Daugherty’s caught our October bogy!
That semi-human Quasimodo won’t be tormenting us anymore.
Only fitting the thing’s been snared here on the eve of Halloween,
After it transformed Mischief Night into a month-long campaign.

C’mon Kate, Lizzie, Ellen, and Rebecca,
You’ve just as much right to punish the monster’s wrongs.
Sneaking in our yards, peeping in our windows,
Desecrating the cemetery, smashing Jeb Llewellyn’s pumpkins,
Preying on our animals, fraying our nerves with its elusiveness,
Scaring more than the bejesus outta Cyndi Anders earlier today.
It’s time that wretch met Grantwood’s Unwelcoming Committee.

C’mon Tyrus, Juan, Gunther, and Angelina,
We’re all coming together tonight to celebrate.
Capture puts an end at last to apprehension.
So let’s seize the moment, and march this nemesis through the streets,
The very thoroughfares it made us wary of traversing after dark.

C’mon everyone, come outside and join in.
Grab whatever’s available–knife, pitchfork, lead pipe, wooden bat.
When we get to the town square you can each take a turn.
We plan on lashing the bastard to the Founder’s statue
And then bashing it open like an animate piñata.
Huzzah! Our vengeance is going to be sweeter than all of
The candy handed out to the oddly costumed tomorrow night.

 

Patchwork

Jeb Llewellyn

Every night for the first third of October
The monster snuck inna my patch and smashed open a pumpkin;
Come morning I’d find the pieces of partially-gnawed rind.
So I rigged a motion sensor, hoping to spotlight the late-night snacking–
Somehow he never set the dang thing off.
I brushed paint thinner on the most attractive-looking specimens–
He kept selecting an untainted gourd.
Rankled to no end, I set up traps all over my land–
And he never came back again.
But neither did my customers, fearing I might’ve forgotten
Where ‘xactly I hid all those toothy steel jaws.

 

Sketchy

Charlie Ehrenhardt

I never saw who it was that snuck up behind me,
And nothing evermore after the bat struck my head.
But I always figured Len Saunders for the slugger,
For my alleged leering at his wife as she strutted to the bank
Each morning while I painted the mural on Kemp’s storefront.
Now as I sit on my front stoop, sketch pad in my lap,
I can hear Len’s voice in the beehive buzz of the passing crowd.
I imagine flaming torches and bobbing pitchforks,
Some local variation on a Universal horror movie.
I work my charcoal, trying to link mind’s eye and muscle memory.
Yet when I press my fingertip to the paper as if it were Brailled
I detect only smoothness, my creation doomed to vagueness.
Meantime the mob rumbles on, noxious with animosity.
I’m guessing that come morning, I won’t be the only one
Here in Grantwood wondering just what have I done.

 

Doggone

Bob Mendenhall

Whether in self-defense or some beastly sense of territoriality
The monster snapped the neck of Virgil’s German shepherd Kendra
Way back when on the fourteenth of this month.
For two weeks straight the dog’d been bent all out of shape,
Barking seemingly non-stop throughout the night.
Virgil and me had been neighbors for nearly twenty years,
But he wouldn’t listen to me when I kept trying to tell him
He’d best bring the dog inside when it got dark out.
“She watches o’er,” he insisted, and look what happened:
One permanently silenced canine.
Now we’re herding the perpetrator toward the town square;
I happily jab it in the back with the steel fingers of my hoe.
Had the damned thing snuffed out the mutt a day sooner
It would’ve saved me the cost of strip steak and strychnine.

 

Tome Reader

Heyward “Stacks” Calhoun

Here in the shadowy bowels of Grantwood’s Library
Lie the various volumes to scandalous for circulation,
Such as Ben Thompson’s incendiary slave diary,
And a highly unauthorized biography of Jeremiah Healey.
Not to mention a certain kid-skinned grimoire,
Whose curious lore served as a perfect lure for a lone bibliophile.
That perusal had been on the first night of October,
And so now I shiver as I overhear the shivaree outside.
I take no joy in the passing crowd’s raucousness,
Because I have to wonder if it was my own clumsy pronunciation that
Unwittingly summoned the town’s cthonian antagonist to begin with.

 

Revival

Abigail St. Clair

“Miss Abby? Whatcha doing over there?” Phil Wheatley calls from his car
When he spots me setting up shop in the middle of the town square:
Thin-legged card table, carafe of cider, plastic cups and cinnamon sticks,
Basketful of the pumpkin muffins I just happened to have been baking.
“Oh, just figured the people in the parade would appreciate some refreshments.”
“Parade?” he echoes, incredulous. Distance and darkness eclipse
Everything but the whites of his teeth, tiny floating ghosts.
“Ma’am, do you understand what’s going on here in town tonight?”
“Well,” I tell him, “I gather there’s going to be a public ceremony held.
So you best move that jalopy outta the way before everyone gets here.”
“Daffy old bat,” he proclaims before stomping the gas pedal.
But I pay him no mind, just settle into the lawn chair I’ve unfolded,
And sit here waiting, anticipating the start of the festivities.
God, it’s been ages since Grantwood hosted a good lynching.

 

Seize the Season

At long last, the calendar has flipped to the most important time of year in the Macabre Republic: the High Holiday season, in the merry month of mayhem. These thirty-one days always seem to fly by faster than a witch late to a sabbath, so I encourage you to start celebrating early. Here’s hoping that your October is stocked with autumnal treats and attractive haunts, and that your Halloween proves a harvest of horror.

Speaking for myself, I am to be in the spirit all month long here on this blog. There will be plenty of Halloween-related posts to follow. Thanks to the recent release of the second cinematic chapter, this isn’t just the season of the witch but also the season of IT. I accordingly have a lot of items planned relating to Stephen King’s epic novel that should float the boat of Constant Readers.

First, for all those who can’t get their fill of fall, here’s a poem to kick off the season. It is from my collection Autumn Lauds (for a closer look inside this book, click the designated heading in the menu above).

 

Octoberzest

Apple cider
Perfectly perfumery bottle, eau de orchard

Candy corn
Fairy horse of sweet tricolor bicuspids

Yankee Candle
Flaming aromatic–earthy wood, sere leaves

Pumpkin pancakes
Limited time: we all bound to IHOP

Decorative hay bales
Squarely redolent of rural remotes

Cinnamon-sugared doughnuts
Dessert worthy of the Van Tassel banquet table

Not just of mists and mellow fruitfulness
(as Keats asserted)
But a season of scents and tastes to savor

 

Fourteen Ways of Looking at Fall Foliage

Here on the fourteenth day of October, I present “Fourteen Ways of Looking at Fall Foliage.” This autumnal one-upping of Wallace Stevens was first published in my collection Autumn Lauds: Poems for the Halloween Season (available on Amazon).

 

Fourteen Ways of Looking at Fall Foliage

By Joe Nazare

 

I.
Nature emblazoned.
An unguttering, golden-orange torch
Mitigating the lengthening nights.

II.
Beacon to New England.
A regional tourist trap
Sprung by the shortage of chlorophyll.

III.
The outdoors brought online.
Photographic alchemy uploaded,
The transient rendered eternal.

IV.
Splendid deciduous calendars.
October oaks counting down
The days remaining until Halloween.

V.
Gloriously performative.
Furnishing a synonym for the season
In silent, scattershot descent.

VI.
Unabashed divesting.
The methodically discarded apparel
Of exhibitionist boughs.

VII.
Democratic in downfall.
Rolling out a red carpet
That anyone can walk.

VIII.
Cemetery lethargy.
Leaves lying like scratchy blankets
Drawn over cold sleepers.

IX.
Rain-pasted to windshields.
Clinging to the hope of mobility,
Driven by autumnal wanderlust.

X.
Dead but wind-borne.
Brittle skittering across macadam:
Shucked insect husks activated.

XI.
Absent yet manifest.
Colorful trefoil ghost-prints
Recorded on concrete.

XII.
Omnipresent models.
Originals of the plastic facsimiles
Decoratively strewn across harvest tables.

XIII.
Late-season heaps.
Sizable shapes suggesting fairy mounds.
Front lawns given an eldritch hint.

XIV.
Fiery piles ignited.
Like proleptic pyres
For the waning year.

 

In Grave Condition

Following yesterday’s Poe post, here’s a poem that suggests it’s not just premature burial we should dread.

 

In Grave Condition

By Joe Nazare

 

I don’t rake ragged fingernails against the casket’s lid
Or shriek hysterics into the enshrouding blackness

My skin doesn’t crawl when I imagine
Something centipedal
Getting under my shirt collar

No
I just lie here
Endlessly pondering a monstrous mystery

Why consciousness lives on
Yet remains trapped in a cranial crypt

 

Cystemic

Much like the figure in the poem below, I sport a ganglion cyst on my wrist. I can only hope, though, that it doesn’t have the same origin…

 

Cystemic

By Joe Nazare

 

Google does little
To soothe his concerns.
“Ganglion” hardly captures
This sudden, inexplicable marble
Pressing from his own flesh like some macabre carpal tumor.

The strange growth
Has the hue of bruised fruit,
Sprouts higher with every hour,
Shoots internal tendrils of dull ache
That scale his brachium and entangle in the roots of his teeth.

His instinct is
To have it out of him.
Excision is all: he seizes his
Keenest piece of kitchen cutlery,
Swallows a half bottle of Jack Daniels as ad hoc anesthetic.

But the surgery is
Promptly preempted when
The butcher knife turns tuning fork,
Striking a vibrant and agonizing chord
The instant the blade-edge even grazes the distended skin.

Woundedly, he
Cradles the affronted
Appendage, which takes on
Mind of its own, sends him staggering
Out of his doublewide and into the desolate New Mexican night.

The insistent cyst
Then inflates, incandesces;
His traitorous arm stiffens, strains
Straight overhead in Lady Liberty mimicry.
Feeling his heels lifting, he thinks perhaps the Rapture’s at hand.

He revises this thesis
When he sees the skies slice open,
Birthing the awful and unearthly thing
That wings itself through the heavens,
A metallic pterodactyl homing in on him.
Identifying
Himself as
A beacon,
He realizes
This isn’t
Rapture,
But rather
A reaping.

Thought Crime (poem)

My latest poem was published today over at the weekly crime poetry blog The Five-Two. “Thought Crime” considers how the hard knocks suffered by a hard-boiled detective continue even into retirement.

While in grad school at NYU, I wrote my doctoral dissertation on cyberpunk science fiction, a movement strongly influenced by the detective novels of Dashiell Hammett and Raymond Chandler. I had a lot of fun (despite the ultimately somber tone of “Thought Crime”) tapping into–and extrapolating from–that same hard-boiled formula here with this poem.