Sunday, October 31, 2010


When they removed the apostrophe from Hallowe'en, they made it less scary.

The apostrophe is the missing tooth in the jack o' lantern.
It gives the word a hiccup, an echo, a disguise.
Without it, you get Halloween, which has a polite, one-word leer—decorative double letters and the colorful H and W. But where does it take you? To the local CVS and around the neighborhood.
Put back the apostrophe, you get mystery.
A much older word, showing the seam of two words, meaning All Hallows' Even, the eve of All Hallows' day—the day of the hallowed (a "Holy Ned!" of a word, waxy as tallow).

It's a spooky chasm between one month and the next for us, one year and the next for the ancient Celts who carved it at the tail-end of their year—the night when the dead may roam among the living. (CUE ORGAN)

We've made it our own. Cloaked it and costumed it in safer garb, while venturing as close to the dead as we dared. Like Orson Welles's pre-Hallowe'en prank on October 30, 1938 ("Mercury Theatre's own radio version of dressing up in a sheet and saying 'Boo!'"). And even that was too close for a lot of people.

Last Halloween (not Hallowe'en), I included the first of three Betty Begonia poems I wrote for my mom. Here then be the last, my own blogosphere version of dressing up as a cowboy or ranchera or circus performer (in honor of my juggler son, Matt) and saying: "It's Betty Begonia and her Grandson!"

“Dear Gram,” Betty read, “How are you?

My round-the-world trip’s nearly through.

I’ll drop by for a visit

next Saturday. Is it

convenient? Hope so! Love, Matthew.”

As Ringo peered over her shoulder,

Betty mused, “He’ll be seven years older

since last he were here...”

and she dabbed at a tear,

which boggled the buckskinned beholder.

“Her grandson?” said Thomas to Jim.

“I don’t think I’ve heard about him.”

“Yep, a circus performer

and quite a barnstormer:

he’ll leap sixteen sheep on a whim.”

Two days later they met the noon stage

and out stepped a tall lad whose age

was sixteen or less.

He was dressed for success

in a suit of pale yellow and beige.

Before introductions were done

he was juggling four satchels for fun

while tipping the porter

a dime and a quarter

produced from the ear of a nun.

And all the way back to the ranch

when the buckboard passed under a branch,

young Matthew would grab it

and, quick as a rabbit,

flip over—which made Ringo blanch.

The cowboys at first were agog

each time Matthew sprang like a frog

up into a tree

or juggled a bee

and three pine cones while rolling a log.

But after two days had gone by

their well of good nature ran dry.

“Again?” Ringo muttered

the tenth time Matt buttered

his sourdough toast on the fly.

“This kid, he gets all the attention,”

Thomas grumbled to Jim. “Not to mention

he’s showing me up.

I slurp from my cup;

he don’t ruffle the dang surface tension!”

“Yeah, but Betty just can’t get enough

of her grandson,” Jim said, “and that stuff

that he’s learned in the circus,

so let’s don’t let him irk us.

I say we make friendly, not gruff.”

Whereupon with a forthcoming grin,

Jim ahemmed and said, “So...mighty Quinn...

Care to go for a ride?

Take your time to decide.”

Matt smiled and answered, “I’m in.”

They suggested the gentlest horse,

but the boy said, “You’re joking, of course!

I’ve ridden wild stallions!

I’m used to rapscallions!

I want one with fury and force!”

So they led out Ms. Thunder Ann Lightning

whose way with a rider was frightening.

When the saddle appeared

she bucked and she reared.

“Much better,” young Matthew said, brightening.

“No saddle. I’d rather go bareback.”

He spat on his hands, smoothed his hair back,

took off at a run,

vaulted high and, for fun,

did a somersault—smack on the mare’s back!

With a whinny like hell in a bottle,

Ms. Lightning took off at full throttle.

Matt clung to her mane

and he yielded his brain

to the mercy of Quetzalcoatl.

“Not smart,” Ringo said. Jim agreed.

“I suppose we should do the good deed.”

“I suppose,” grumbled Thomas,

who disliked melodramas,

“and I guess we’d best put on some speed.”

To their horses they swiftly repaired

in pursuit of the runaway mare.

Her dust cloud soon bloomed

and then the mare loomed

like the fruit of a daredevil’s prayer.

“Hang in there!” yelled Jim to young Matt

who was lying impressively flat.

He pulled up alongside

of the mare, stride for stride,

and yodeled “The Nebulous Gnat.”

That tune was almost guaranteed

to divert almost any stampede

among horses or cattle

engaged in a battle

with panic, or anger, or need.

Meanwhile, seeing his opportunity,

Thomas came to the rear with impunity.

Yelling, “Time to skedaddle,”

he leapt from his saddle

and with Matthew he formed a community.

Tom’s riderless horse was soon caught

by Ringo, who’d never been taught

to round up loose strays.

He just did it, unfazed,

like a Roy Rogers wannabe ought.

At last the three cowboys were able

to make things a little more stable

for horse and for rider

and a swig of hard cider

didn’t hurt, back at Betty B.’s table.

“Ms.Thunder Ann Lightning?” yelled Betty.

“Were you boys born with brains or spaghetti???”

But Matt held up a hand

with an air of command

that he’d learned on the vast Serengeti.

“They tried to dissuade me,” he said.

“But I paid no attention. Instead,

I was reckless and foolish,

self-centered and mulish.”

He paused, both his ears turning red.

“My act may be famous, but they

are the ones we should cheer for today,

‘cause next to their feat

my tricks can’t compete:

not a chance, not a prayer, and no way.”

A long stretch of silence ensued

until Jim interrupted the mood.

“Hey—show me that thing

where you fly through a ring

like a quail, upside down, would ya, dude?”


Finally, a last scene for Halloween (not Hallowe'en) gleaned from a brisk walk down to Spy Pond to bid October adieu (before the ado). A squirrel came pouncing across a lawn. It had something in its mouth. Looked like a stick from my angle. But Carol insisted it had writing on it. Sure enough, when I walked back a bit to improve my view, I saw a gleam of metallic paper. The object was oblong. It was a Hershey bar! (Seriously!)

Either people aren't choosy about who they give candy to noawdays, or that was the MOST convincing squirrel costume I've ever seen!

Happy E'en!
Happy Een!
Happy somewhere in betwe'en!

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