Tag Archives: pastoral

A Hallowe’en Poem

28 Oct

long road_charcoal

The Preacher of Pumpkin Patch Lane

by Martin Slag

 *  *  *

The Preacher of Pumpkin Patch Lane had terrible things on his brain.

In a town just a few miles south of obscure
Between Sandalwood Beach and Blueberry Shore
And also in the middle
of Nothing

There was a clearing in the forest
Surrounded by foxglove and stone
And a pumpkin patch
The land made fertile by a nearby bog
Scorched in the shape of an oval
From a U.F.O. landing some hundred years back

Where under a Hunter’s Moon
And floodlights with batteries as big as barns

Through clean black air and rustling vineyards
And over the ghost-whine of baby raccoons

The preacher spoke

His pasty face caked up with make-up
Fat body squeezed into his
Trademark powder-blue suit
And patent-leather shoes
That slithered and glistened like some alien metal

And the people listened

They listened with mirth as he sang, spit, spun
Told tales of the uncommon and the uncomfortable
He spoke of death and depression
As if these were old friends
Owing him large debts
Of droughts and famines and earthquakes and tsunamis
He warned of werewolves and warlocks and zombies
Of dark winds and other dread things

He gave them recipes
He taught them new math
He showed them how to set their clocks
So that it was never midnight
And how the wizards made their foul chowder
Using goatsmilk as a base (one must never allow
Their children to drink from the tits of a goat)
For this—it was well-known—was another ingredient
In the Conjurer’s vile broth

He told them which part of the rhubarb to eat
And which parts were deadly poison
And which parts were merely awful
And where to put this and where not to put that
And what kind of nip to feed to your cat
And also how to tell if your tomatoes were ripe
And when to tuck your children in at night
And what you could put in your pipe—and how to smoke it

“Do not let your wives indulge in tattoos,”
Said this creature in the blue suit
And shiny black shoes,
“Or else they will run off with warrior-dwarfs
And their children will fall from the womb
With heads like turnips”

“Protect your lot,” he said
“With red paint to stave off rot
Slay your livestock once each season
You don’t want to give wolves a reason
To kidnap your pigs”

He went on like that for a while
Never cracking a smile
Standing on the stump of an old fat Oak that he may have cut down himself

Until, as bats emerged from their caves
There arrived a woman named Hester
Wearing only one shoe, and a nightgown
And though she was obviously mentally ill
The crowd did not move to molest her
As she split the congregation like a drill cutting into a board

And there—
Where the preacher gave his sermon
Hands raised in praise
By witness of the sanguine moon and the
Baseball-stadium lights—

The woman stepped onto the stage

“Assault!” cried a man in the audience
As the crazy woman reared back her arm
To strike the poor preacher

“I said what I’d do if you came here alone,”
Said the woman in the lily-white robe
“I’d flog you in front of the village—I said it!
These people aren’t your playthings
Although I give you credit
For putting on this hypnotic display
Your sermons are more fun than monkeys at play
But lacking in some utterly crucifiable way
For if they only knew
What ridiculous things you do
In your hours away from the stump”

“Left alone in the world you would barely survive
For an hour—and yet
You’ll tell all the world how to care for their pets
And what color paint to use on their barns
But you can’t even pick up your own room
You haven’t yet learned how to operate a broom
Nor mastered the toilet, the shower, the stove
Or the kettle—how could you?

“You’re only five”

The villagers came forth to challenge the woman
“He saved us from eating wizard’s pudding,” they said
“And from boiling the leaf of the rhubarb—
Without him we’d all be dead

“He taught his elders history
And our children manners
He helped us salvage our crops
And restored our appreciation of cats
And got us to string up that weird schoolmarm
Who was involved in all manner of wicked’ry”

“Superstition!” cried the woman,
“The stuff of a child’s bad dreams
Of wet beds and thrashing, moon-lit screams
You ought to be shamed for encouraging him
You all know my son is a simpleton

“It isn’t so hard to take care of your plants
One hardly needs prayer circles, potions, chants
You need only science, and patience
And care
You preen them, you feed them, you sprinkle their roots
With chemicals to make the fruit grow fat
And when the rain comes you allow them to drink—
Did you think it was any more mystic than that?

With that the woman stepped into the switchgrass
And led her son home by kicking his ass

In the Winter there came a freeze
Like none the village, or the world, had seen
And yet no one starved—his mother was right

They were only pumpkins

But without any witches or wizards to fear
The people stopped slaughtering their steer
And slicing up their pigs
And milking their goats
And pulling their crop
And feeding their cats
And smoking their pipes
And tending their plants
Until there was nothing left in the village
But rhubarb

Months, seasons slipped by
Then years
The Moon made its cycles
Some starved; others thrived

The preacher returned to the village
One Hunter’s moon
His face full but not fat
Blond hair turned jet-black and grown out
To fall beneath his shoulders

He’d come here on a lark
On leave from University—wanting to see
What had become of his pulpit

The baseball lights were covered in moss
Inhabited by thirsty birds
Making them look like huge metal scarecrows

The foxglove was gone, and so were the stones
Having been picked clean by robbers
And would-be assassins

The steamy bog with its bullfrogs remained and
So did the raccoons, and the caves full of bats

The stump was rotted out and caked in bird scat
Though he stepped onto it anyway

His tiny powder-blue suit was stashed away
In a box in an attic in an old house in the middle of Nothing
The patent-leather shoes that were once his prize
Having been lost in a flood and sent down Main Street
On a massive trash-strewn wave

He opened his mouth to speak
For the first time in fifteen years
In a voice that only the bullfrogs could hear

And he himself heard nothing

In a town just a few miles south of obscure
Somewhere west of Blueberry Shore
In a clear in a wood over which banshees once flew
And dark winds once blew
Now, splashed across the forest floor
Was a sea of roots and calcified chutes
Vines of pumpkin which grew
And still grew
But blossomed no more

Art & Words copyright Ernesto Barbieri 2014

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