Prose from Poetry

An interesting challenge from Björn Rudberg at the d’Verse Poets Pub  came my way yesterday.  he offered a line of from Louise Gluck’s poem All Hallows and asked us to write a prose piece of no more than 144 words, incorporating, This is the barrenness of harvest or pestilence.


Halloween always reminds me of an amazing night I spent in a graveyard in a village near Oaxaca, Mexico with a writing group led by Donna Hanelin.  The word ‘Halloween’ actually comes from an abbreviation of All Hallows’ Eve. It is the night before the Catholic celebration of All Saints’ Day.  Traditionally, the population of the faithful held vigils that evening, in honor of the saints, their own ancestors and the unburied dead.  The plague-doctor-akiko-kobayashiunburied dead were no small thing in the middle ages when a pestilence like the Black Death could sweep away entire villages, leaving no one behind to bury the bodies.  However, like most church holidays, All Hallows’ Eve, All Saints’ Day and All Souls’ Day date back to cornucopia-thanksgiving-120@1xmuch more ancient festivals celebrating the harvest and the end of the pagan year.  Continuing this lineage, these three days are still celebrated as religious holidays in Mexico, and Central and South America.


My night in the graveyard was marked by drinking tequila, singing and pitching in to clean family plots and share picnics spread across the graves.  No one could have offered greater hospitality than those villagers offered our odd band of gringo poets.  Now when Halloween comes around it’s them that I think of first.  Naturally,  Oaxaca became the setting for my story.

sugar skulls

All Hallows Eve, Oaxaca

Beth Marie stared at her mother-in-law’s altar.  An ultrasound photo of her dead baby sat among fruits and vegetables beside a tiny sugar skull labeled Katrina.  “This,” she thought, “is the barrenness of harvest or pestilence.”  She barely noticed the two statues of the ugly Mayan Goddess of Filth and Disease and beautiful Guadalupe had grown in size.  Didn’t flinch when they stepped from the altar and drew her into an embrace. 

Her flesh dissolved, leaving nothing behind but bone.  They placed bread for the dead in her empty mouth, anointed her teeth with mescal, took her by the hand and led her unresisting, along a pathway of marigolds to the tiny gravestone.  She curled around it.  Wept.  Slept.  

Her husband found her at dawn and awakened her with kisses.  She welcomed him inside herself for the first time since they’d buried their stillborn daughter.

This entry was posted in dVerse, Halloween, Latin America, Meaning, Writing and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

6 Responses to Prose from Poetry

  1. This has a sense of magic realism I remember from reading Latino authors, and so fitting for the night. Also the poem by Louise Glück with the lines:

    Come here
    Come here, little one

    And the soul creeps out of the tree.

    Could be from the memory of a stillborn child.

  2. Lynnette Eldredge says:

    I love this, and it makes me yearn to manifest this tradition in our gringo culture. A community that comes together in a graveyard to celebrate the lives of the departed, and the nature of our human condition, is a wonderful thing. It would be a great comfort to be a member of that community, knowing that we would be celebrated and not forgotten after we’ve been reduced to bones.
    I hope they are still doing the Altar Show in Nevada County!

  3. msjadeli says:

    Your story is giving me the goosebumps. It has a mysticism that feels archetypal. Clarissa Pinkola-Estes tells stories like this in her Mother Night series of lectures. I love the wonderful healing quality she made herself receptive to! This one is a keeper, Christine.

  4. rothpoetry says:

    Chillingly interesting!

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