Totem


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 hollowed 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 at it, cracking
the rind, kneading and knotting fibres free. The crown
with its top-knot mockery of stalk caves in; the skull
buckles; the whole head drips tallowy tears: the end
is in sight. In a day of two it topples on itself
like ruined thatch, pus-white drool spidering
from the corner of the mouth and 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, ambers 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 drop falls free, it catches and clutches
for one split second the light. When the pumpkin
lapses to our common ground at last–where a white
swaddle of snow will fold it in not 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.


Eamon Grennan, Relations: New and Selected Poems, Graywolf Press, 1998.