Each Halloween, I seem to have this unexplained, agitated energy that has nothing to do with sugar. I try to remain calm in the face of it for the child in my life, but I’d rather spend the day in a Buddhist retreat than handing out candy to 300 kids. No joke. The neighborhood where I live (and don’t own a home) is a magnet that gets people busing from other towns, and one year when I was able, I spent $300 on candy and still ran out. One year I put a sign on my door saying “Sorry, Not Home,” turned out all the lights and worked in my basement in the dark. And they still pounded on the door! Resistance is futile.
I carved a smiling pumpkin complete with character lines and have luscious hand crafted butternut squash soup simmering on the stove for my daughter and her friends before they head out to harvest sugar. But I’d really rather not be here. Halloween is probably my least favorite holiday, yet Fall is my favorite season.
Below is a poem I wrote 20 years ago related to the season. I wore a back brace during high school and got my first brace on Halloween Day; hence, the connection and candy corn. Message from the universe: Write some new poems!
The Anniversary of My Strangeness
I commemorate the occasion with candy corn
vertebrae on a chocolate cake,
pulled to the side like some fault-line
in the frosting; a keyboard snaked
like a river, sounding zany, twisted tones.
In visits to the Albuquerque Prosthetic Clinic–
men of war need limbs, bought parts,
while I stood wrapped in plaster, drying hot,
arms out like a scarecrow, waiting for the saw
to split my casing.
The technician was kind, explaining how a cast saw
stays away from skin. But my stomach
did not know the difference.
A week later I am fitted, the brace
transformed into an inch of plastic and Styrofoam,
springing brass brackets and Velcro-leather straps
that can be tightened between meals.
An adjustable door in the back, pressures
my right scapula to conform
my independently thinking spine.
Four times I completed the plaster ceremony.
My choice: Refuse the brace for the sake of boys
and a swim team, and grow always leaning–
or, live in a shell to hold my spine in its 35-degree
curve until the bones stop their growth.
Four years spent, twenty three hours each day in its grip.
I bumped off walls,
got elbowed in a crowd and reveled in surprised glares,
heard every knock-knock joke in the book
by well-meaning friends testing my nerves.
Unable to bend at the waist,
my fingers could dance
between black and white on stage
and people listened, eyes closed.
I could have been the hunchback
of Notre Dame and the audience
would not have seen me or themselves
listening to my sound.
Music poured from my fingers,
washing me, carrying me
from my body in its case.
Two, then four, then six hours a day,
the piano spoke my anger, my tears.
I didn’t know I was praying.