No poet can
resist the call
Of apple orchards in the Fall —
The rasping music of the crow,
The sighs of wind-borne leaves, the low
Sweet thrum of crickets touched with cold
Must lure us to the phantom gold
Of harvest haze that lingers on
The Isle of Apples — Avalon.
Dust mounts around a rising hum:
In metal ships, the pilgrims come
Across the suburbs for a day
Spent apple-picking, far away
From gleaming toys that hold no spark
Of life to batter back the dark
When golden Autumn draws us near
The shadows of an ancient fear.
Up the stony road I go;
The white horse whinnies for hello,
And there — two lovers walk apart,
Yet share an apple, like a heart
That's nibbled to the bitter core —
You understand the metaphor.
The lady greets me as I pass,
And throws the apple on the grass
(A fruit she had no right to pluck;
Stolen apples bring bad luck).
Here come the cars — so now I'll rove
Within the leafy apple-grove
And climb the footpath up the hill.
I have a little sack to fill
From trees that offer to the sun
A hundred hearts instead of one.
And what a dazzling choice to make —
What a range of spoils to take —
Green orbs smooth as celadon,
Moon-globes that might beam upon
The glades of the Hesperides —
Straggling sunburned families
Wander dazed among the rows
Of laden trees, or sit and doze
Where purple stars and goldenrod
Drain the apple-nourished sod.
Ample beauty for a poem —
How much will they carry home?
Sun and rain have made the crop
Ripe and sweet enough to drop;
I like the ruby windfalls best —
I find them where they've tumbled, pressed
Against a mound of emerald clover.
Carefully, I turn them over —
Apples meant to quench our thirst,
If wasps and deer don't find them first.
Above the summit, kestrels wheel;
Below, the river shines like steel;
And from the bright October blue,
South-winging geese add bell-notes to
The shouts within a sheltered glen
Where half a dozen rugged men
Stack the bonfire that will soon
Rival Halloween's full moon
And paint the hills with golden light
When days embrace the reign of Night.
Weatherbeaten and forlorn,
Guarding pumpkins, gourds, and corn,
The blind-eyed harvest oversoul
Looks eastward from his rough-hewn pole
Through parchment stalks to sapphire skies
Where the waxing moon will rise.
On violet nights no longer warm,
Fall's gleaner, the October storm,
Sweeps down the hills with raking teeth
To comb the orchard's lacy wreath
Of twisted trees — now nearly bare
Except for apples here and there.
We'll add more color to this scene,
Because tonight is Halloween:
They're planting torches all along
The winding road, to light the throng
Of revelers who'll take a ride
Through haunted groves where goblins bide.
The wagon-mistress, tall and brown,
Rides the white horse up and down
While goblins, just let out of school,
Make sure that every fiend and ghoul
And jack-o-lantern, witch, and ghost
Will grimace from its proper post.
As the witching-hour draws nigh,
Droves of families come by
With children — of an eager mind
To leave their SUVs behind
And listen for the screech-owl's trill
Around the bonfire on the hill.
They pay their fees, then tumble in
Against the hay — and we begin
Our wagon-trek across the field.
Behold! A pumpkin moon's revealed
Between two veils of misty grey
That spectral fingers whisk away.
As sunset's last candescence dies,
A thousand orange fireflies
Fade in among the withered sheaves,
And in the trees, now shorn of leaves,
Where hordes of jack o'lanterns grin
Like demons contemplating sin.
The brown-and-white draft horses swerve,
And there, around a clockwise curve
A score of hanging bodies twitch —
The season of the Salem Witch
Rides on within this grim tableau.
We pass another scene of woe:
A host of children, deathly pale,
Are offered, more or less for sale
To work in noisy factories,
Or picking cotton, if you please.
Just as the driver cracks her whip,
A pothole makes the wagon dip
And as we pitch, we nearly fall
Within a scene that must appall:
Three beggars, dressed in filthy rags,
Their worldly goods in garbage bags,
Come slinking forward — and what's worse,
They block the cart and start to curse.
We throw them coins and lurch away
Towards the next unholy play,
Which stars a TV-addled grouch,
Who lounges on a vinyl couch,
While his poor shackled helpmeet cooks.
Her clothes catch fire. He never looks
Around at her, but merely turns
The channel, as she screams and burns.
Next door, the angel of the house,
Who drains a man, and leaves a mouse,
Stands gloating in her vampire cape.
She took the kids. He can't escape,
Or pay his bills. There's only one:
Solution: he picks up a gun
And puts the barrel to his head —
I shut my eyes. Above the tread
Of hooves, a waltz drifts through the glades,
As breezes stir the colored shades
Of paper lanterns, in whose glow
Fiends waltz with angels, to and fro,
Revolving like twin planets do.
A great horned owl flies up: "Whoo-hoo!"
She cries, and skims above the track
That stretches out towards the black
And silver summit of the farm.
In answer to the owl's alarm,
The torches flicker into life
And make the road a golden knife
That cuts the moonlit slope in half.
I hear the screech-owl's ghostly laugh;
Through silver cloud-veils in the East,
The yellow moon lights up the feast
That's waiting for the wagon train.
Beside the pyre, I see a grain
Of match-light, cupped in someone's hands,
And suddenly, the blaze expands
And towers upwards. We strike camp
Around the fire. A pumpkin lamp
Lights rows of apples, candy-red
Marked with a smile-face or skull-head.
Relaxed, and too content for words,
The riders huddle like black birds
Against the light, and warm their toes,
Drink cider, or toast marshmallows.
I ask a boy with purple hair
To grill a hamburg, extra-rare,
And then, when I sit down to eat,
There's someone leaning on the seat.
It seems that our Oktoberfest
Includes one uninvited guest:
The orchard scarecrow, poor old guy,
Upstanding when the corn was high,
Has fallen down and come apart,
A victim of the hailstone's dart,
And of the harsh Nor'easter's lash.
Around the fire, children dash
In circles, and to cap their games,
They toss the scarecrow on the flames,
Which leap still higher. I gasp for breath,
To see him crowned with fire — King Death.
He smiles as orange flames consume
His rags and patches. Now the gloom
And cold of winter rise and sweep
The hillside, sowing thoughts of sleep,
And as I have no mind to talk
To strangers, I decide to walk
Alone, back to the cider press;
The wagons leave, one person less;
The embers flicker — night grows colder —
Then — a hand falls on my shoulder.
Slowly, I turn around to see
The blackened scarecrow smile at me.
"Do you know who I am?" he asks.
"Old conjurer, your many masks
Take wing upon the graven slate
Above plain words that mark the late
Lamented loved ones paid for toil
With twelve square feet of acid soil.
When harvest days achieve their end,
You show yourself — the poet's friend;
Give half the matter for our art
When we're alive; when we depart,
You lend your wings to those who've sung:
However old, forever young."
And so, I don't take fright at all,
But sit with him upon the wall
Of fieldstones — and our time ends well:
The chiming of the All Saints bell
Puts Night and Hell and Death to flight,
And when the first November light
Gilds stubble-fields the frost has kissed,
The Reaper swims in amethyst,
And makes his way towards the West.
I choose a road the dawn has blessed,
But pluck an apple from the tray
To keep the dark and cold away
With thoughts of sweetness that will grow
Only through dreams beneath the snow.
© 2008 by Ellin Anderson. All rights
No part of this work may be copied or used in any way
without written permission from the author.