Halloween poem: Zelda Sayre carves a jack-o'-lantern

Olivia Cole

Olivia Cole 's Halloween treat for DRUGSTORE CULTURE

31 October 2018 08:30

The top of his head sliced off, cleanly gone,
she leans back, barefoot, quizzical,
baby-faced, upside down. Anybody home?

Anything to say for yourself Mister?!
Alone, head over heels, peering into her prize:
the largest, most perfect pumpkin within

and just beyond state boundaries any would-be
Halloween date could find. Next, scoop
by scoop, first with a shiny spoon that twists uselessly

out of shape, and then with her hands, up to her elbow
she burrows further. With a soft tug, out comes
a tangled mass of seeds trailing string

the brains of the operation she thinks,
and tosses them aside. And now the mess is everywhere:
under her nails, on her cuffs, in her long blond hair.

Her laugh is an echo in his empty head,
a loud-mouthed unexpected guest in this wet red planet.
She raps him sharply on the hollow walls

then, gentle now, the way the blind identify
a favourite child, runs her hands over his taut ridges
and curves. You know this ain’t easy for me either buddy,

then, quick, before she changes her mind,
brings out the Judge’s best carving knife.
No one can save him now. The sidewalk is deserted,

the garden dark, the air still warm. His defacement
takes all of fifteen minutes. Just when
he feels a fool, just when he needs her

reassurance most, she gives one long yawn…
and goes to find a candle.
The glowflies are gonna love you now.

Startled, he throws his new silhouette out onto the lawn.
His eyes aren’t quite straight, giving him a constant wink
into the night. His mouth’s a cartoon

orange segment a college half-time quarter.
He smiles, permanently, with false jollity
as if he knows his days on the porch are numbered.

By day, it can barely take the weight of her admirers.
Some days, the neighbours say, it resembles a recruiting station.
In the hottest maddest spell, just before Labor Day

trying to loop the loop for her, a couple of new conscripts
crash landed in the woods. With a brief glance at the sky
as though they were two particularly well-made paper planes,

oh yeah, oh wow she said then turned away. Before,
he could never imagine the heavy sweet scent
of jasmine provoking a rising panic, a kind of sickly dread.

She strokes his cheek. He will grin and bear it.
He holds his torch and will not waver,
like all the hundreds of boys she’s kissed that seem

just like her mother’s dahlia harvest and the last
of the confused late summer roses, as though
the more she can pick, the more they will appear.