As I mentioned in the post Inspiration Struck, I have been working on a poem for a Halloween writing competition hosted by SMM. This may be one of my longest poems ever. I’m going to work on it a little more before I submit it to the contest, but thought I’d put up the completed—completed in the sense that I have a beginning, middle, and end all worked out, and it only wants some sanding down—poem.
Reading the whole thing, made me think this could be a fun picture book. For anyone who doesn’t know, and I only learned the tale recently, this poem is based off an Irish legend of a man called Stingy Jack, or sometimes, Jack of the Lantern.
“Trick or treat,” the children giggling say,
and as trickster I made my hateful way.
“Deceiver,” my epitaph would have read
had anyone cared to know I was dead.
My infamy spread from Heaven to Hell,
and Satan himself wanted to dispel
rumors I’d outfox the father of lies;
so, in drunken travels, to my surprise,
happening upon a corpse in a ditch,
I witnessed its animate smile, which
chilled me sober seeing that dreadful sight.
It was then I knew I would die that night.
The devil arose from his lounging state,
and, walking by my side, spoke of my fate.
Reaching crossroads—here an apple tree grew—
I devised plans to avoid this just due.
“Let me taste Earth’s ripened growth,” pleaded I,
“for from trees you’ve oft encouraged men try
what’s forbidden, so feasting make me yours.”
At this that serpent shinnied on all fours
up that twisted trunk to grasp Adam’s sin.
With my carving knife, I marred the tree’s skin.
Using quick strokes I rendered a crude cross,
it was then the devil sensed his true loss.
“Want you not this succulent food?” he asked
holding out the blood red morsel I’d tasked
him to fetch and so end this stomach’s fast.
Succumbing to laughter, I said at last,
“Keep your cursed gifts, I care not for such fruits,
much more do I delight in tasty roots,”
and producing turnip did take a bite;
thus, walking on, forsook him to his plight.
But then his forked tongue did utter this plea,
“I’d have a gift for one, who’d set me free,
that never would I take him down to Hell.
No more fearing damnation, he’d live well.”
At his words my greedy heart filled with joy,
little realizing that like foolish Troy,
I was embracing my own destruction,
in heeding of Lucifer’s instruction.
“Destroy the cross and I will grant your wish;
you shall not enter my realm of anguish.”
Taking his cue, did I cruelly remove
Jesus’ image of what is just and true.
Leaping from his high perch above my head,
did he land, transfigured, a snake instead.
Slithering away into the tall grass
the devil and I, Jack, parted at last.
Lived I long thereafter—a drunk miser—;
never repenting, I grew no wiser,
‘til finality, the ultimate ends,
my blackened soul from this sore body rends.
Weightless spirit, without harbor or home,
found I no harvest from all what was sown.
No cherubs came, an escort to glory,
nor demon bailiffs hunting a quarry.
Forsaken to darkness immutable,
I wandered in limbo inscrutable.
A place to rest was all my desire,
even ‘twere a place of flaming fire.
For Heaven denied me entrance therein,
Saint Peter’s records showed all that had been.
From sweet Paradise was I rejected,
so the other place I went, dejected.
Screening entrance to that terrible pit
Lucifer, his scepter a three pronged stick,
was waiting for me with his sneering grin,
asking me plainly if I wanted in.
Breathless, I nodded, for I could not stand
to be this strange thing, neither saved nor damned.
Laughing in his harsh rasping voice, he said:
“This is your trick, you did make your own bed.”
He bid me depart by waving his hand,
but I would not return to Limbo’s land.
Seeing me stay, he rose with a fury,
and hurling burning coal made me scurry.
This hellish souvenir, dimly glowing,
my object of study grimly showing
itself my only hope of warmth or light,
this gift given me in devilish spite.
Too hot for these, my bare hands, to carry,
carved I this plant into something scary.
My lamp is a face, shining in the dark,
so on Halloween, remember to hark
this, a sinner’s cautionary tale told:
Deceivers and tricksters all will grow old,
and often the most daring tricks we’ll brave
heaps harm on the head of one simple knave.
That fool was myself, and this is my name,
Jack of the Lantern, wayfarer like Cain.