Losing Farther, Losing Faster: Late October and a Poem for All Souls

Oh, Autumn!  Season of sweaters and woodsmoke, of fresh school supplies, of deciduous trees flaming out in a last burst of color.  You've long been my favorite time of year.

But there's a moment when the first cold October rain washes all your gorgeous watercolor from the trees, a moment when I can't help but feel a bit mournful.  

Something in the air reminds me of the early November evening when my father received the diagnosis of the cancer that would take him from us in mere weeks.  And that same late autumn tang was in the air when I took Ophelia, my noble yellow lab, on her last walk, just before I brought her to the vet to be put down.

These things aren't autumn's fault.

Still, there's something about late autumn itself--its very essence--that forces us, in the words of Elizabeth Bishop, to "practice losing farther, losing faster."  

I can't help but take October personally.  And it seems no accident that the month culminates with All Hallows' Eve/Halloween/the Day of the Dead, when the living commune with their dead, plying them with pan de muerto, sweets, and flowers.

photo lifted from Transitions Abroad

A few Octobers ago, I wrote this poem about the bittersweetness of this time of year:

All Souls

Like refugees, they ran off empty handed,
forsaking heirloom china, cutlery,
leaving behind their hands, their tongues and teeth.

The dead eat only our intentions.

Still we heat the oven, flour our hands.
Into foods they used to crave
we melt too much butter.
We gladly burn our fingers on the skillet.

Hungry?  The dead are nothing but hunger

For our sake, they swarm like bees
to sugar skulls and scattered marigolds,
mezcal bottles, glossy loaves of bread,
their own best photos framed in gold,
their graves tidied of weeds.  Lured by the lauds

we offer for their safe arrival,

the dead are not Catrinas
gussied in tophats and feathered boas
pipecleaner fingers bent to hold
the stems of red roses,

but they forgive such insults.  The dead
draw near us but can only get so close,

like dogs in winter pressed for warmth
to the wrong side of the wall.

Frida Kahlo Catrina found here


  1. It really is a hard time of year--great poem, April. Sending you warmth!


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