Totem Poem by Eamon Grennan


All Souls' over, the roast seeds eaten, I set
on a backporch post our sculpted pumpkin
under the weather, warm still for November.
Night and day it gapes in at us
through the kitchen window, going soft
in the head. Sleepwalker-slow, a black rash of ants
harrows this hollow globe, munching
the pale peach flesh, sucking its seasoned
last juices dry. In a week, when the ants and
humming flies are done, only a hard remorseless light
drills and tenants it through and through. Within,
it turns mould-black in patches, stays
days like this while the weather takes it
in its shifty arms: wide eye-spaces shine,
the disapproving mouth holds firm. Another week,
a sad leap forward: sunk to one side
so an eye-socket's almost blocked, it becomes
a monster of its former self. Human, it would have
rotted beyond unhappiness and horror
to some unspeakable subject state—its nose
no more than a vertical hole, the thin
bridge of amber between nose and mouth
in ruins. The other socket opens
wider than ever: disbelief.
It's all downhill
from here: knuckles of sun, peremptory
steady fingers of frost, strain all day and night—
cracking the rind, kneading the knotted fibres
free. The crown, with its top-knot mockery
of stalk, caves in; the skull buckles; the whole
sad head drips tallowy tears: the end
is in sight. In a day or two it topples on itself
like ruined thatch, pus-white drool spidering
from the corner of the mouth, worming its way
down the body-post. All dignity to the winds,
it bows its bogeyman face of dread
to the inevitable.
And now, November almost out,
it is in the bright unseasonable sunshine
a simmer of pulp, a slow bake, amber shell speckled
chalk-grey with lichen. Light strikes and strikes
its burst surfaces: it sags, stays at the end of
its brief tether—a helmet of dark circles, death caul.
Here is the last umbilical gasp, everybody's
nightmare parent, the pitiless system
rubbing our noses in it. But pity poor lantern-head
with his lights out, glob by greasy glob
going back where he came from: as each seed-shaped
dropp falls free, it catches and clutches
for one split second the light. When the pumpkin
lapses to our common ground at last—where
a swaddle of snow will fold it in no time
from sight—I try to take in the empty space it's left
on top of the wooden post: it is that empty space.

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