Monday, October 21, 2013

On Halloween, All Souls, and All Saints...

Halloween with a Smile, (c) 2013 by Maja Trochimczyk

Did you decorate your house for Halloween yet? I took out my laughing bats, magic hats, and pumpkins. Yet another year of trying to tame the monster, make the grime and horror go away. I wish to replace the vulgar tastelessness of eyeball soups and skeletons on the lawn with some carnival-style whimsy... I'll be disappointed again, surrounded by plastic atrocities emerging from the closet yet again, as we circle on this merry-go-round of time that accelerates every year. When I started my "Chopin with Cherries" blog in 2010, I wrote about the composer's death, cemeteries and Halloween... Let me start this rant against Halloween, then, with a self-quotation:

  "October in America is filled with the excitement of Halloween. Now, that’s a strange celebration! People dress up as zombies. They scatter eyeballs, skeletons, and torn, bloody limbs around their houses. They convert their gardens into makeshift graveyards… All to scare death away. The spiritual roots of Halloween are in Druidic rituals of the Winter Solstice, a holiday of darkness, marking the shortest day and longest night of the year. What if the night won and the sun never came back? Monsters, ghouls, and horrible, terrifying, dangerous creatures of the dark are supposed to be roaming the world that night, saying “trick or treat” – “bribe me, or I’ll kill you.” 

In a highly commercialized current version of this celebration, a wild party-season culminating on October 31, we conquer our fear of death by dressing up like the dead and dressing our children like cute little ghouls and monsters, to cheat and trick death, pretending we are already dead. There is more to it, of course, beyond the candy giveaway and all-night, carnival parties. To me, this is a day dedicated to fear and rejection of death. We want to live forever. We mock and deny the power of death, by ridiculing it in the most atrocious way possible. People love Halloween. I’m deeply conflicted about it. As a mother, though, I made my share of costumes… 

Traces into Earth - Photo (c) 2013 by Maja Trochimczyk

I remember going to a cemetery on October 31, during my first year in Canada, two months after coming from Poland. It was a culture shock. There was nobody there, the place was abandoned. In the city, stores and yards were full of make-believe tomb-stones, with sculls scattered around and zombies’ hands sticking out of the ground, but nobody went to bring candles and flowers to real graves. In Poland, at this time of the year, we used to visit the grave-sites of our grandparents, great grandparents, or soldiers, or victims of the war. We used to bring candles to these grave-sites and monuments. In the rain, in quickly falling darkness of a late autumn evening, cemeteries and war memorial sites were shrouded by the warm glow of thousands of candles. People wanted to remember their dead, their fore-bearers. They wanted to reflect on the past, think about their own mortality. The All Souls’ Day, October 31, is a melancholy, yet comforting remembrance of our ancestors and a time for reflection on our own place in the dance of generations.

 In Warsaw, where we had no family graves to visit, we went to the monuments of the fallen: the Unknown Soldier, the heroes of the Warsaw Uprising of 1944. (A handful of underground Home Army soldiers held out for 63 days before being defeated by the Germans, while the Allies waited for the city to bleed to death). We walked through the alleys of Powazki, the oldest cemetery in town, visited the graves of famous Poles. We brought lots of candles; children ran around and made sure all the candles were burning. They had fun: played with fire, skipped over puddles, collected dry, colorful leaves. Adults walked with their umbrellas, and said “shh, shhh… be quiet, this is a cemetery, a place of peace and eternal rest.” 

But it is not the disgusting artificial severed limbs, eyeless sockets of plastic skulls that may truly terrify you. The scary stuff happens behind closed doors, in homes that look so idyllic from afar, with their bright porch light and tidy gardens:

The Hour of Darkness

"Get out of my house!!!"
said the man.
"Look at the knife
in my hand!"
the boy answered.
The woman cried

with her heart split open.
The little girl whispered:
"I wish I were a fairy
and could make myself deaf
to not hear you..."

And it was night. 


Note: The last line is quoted from The Bible, NIV, the Gospel According to St. John: John 13:30.

(c) 1997 by Maja Trochimczyk 

Darkness comes, last sunlight  - Photo (c) 2013 by Maja Trochimczyk

Sometimes the pain that outlasts all others is internal, invisible, untouched: 

Love Horror

I saw you at the opera:
So royal in your splendidness,
you dispensed favors
left and right,
bestowing graces.

What did you see
in me, a Shulamite
dancing darkly
among throngs
of chaste-less virgins?

Love is a horror of distance -
silent scream
for one kind hour 

(c) 2000 by Maja Trochimczyk

And then, of course, out of a broken heart, a broken present, and no future:

Last Wish

Kiss me with the kiss of death
so my lips stop breathing
kiss me with the kiss of Lete
so its waters wash away
my memory
kiss me, please,
so I could go in peace
to the empty fields of Elysium
for a well deserved stroll in the park
of the late graceful

(c) 2003 by Maja Trochimczyk

The Waters of Lethe - Photo (c) 2013 by Maja Trochimczyk

Sometimes, things happen that you do not want to remember, do not want to forget. April 4, 2000. The day my parents were shot. May 12, 2001, the day my Father died, after a year in and out of the hospital. His last words to me? About a week before his death: "Majusiu, your Dad has become a vampire! I live off other people's blood." And we laughed at this joke about a very serious matter. His spine cells, exhausted by months of malnutrition, stopped producing red blood cells. He lived because he had a blood transfusion every two weeks. Indeed, a vampire.

Then: July 4, 2013, the day my Mother died. I would not believe it was serious, that trip to the hospital (again!), in an ambulance (again!). I had time to get used to to these phone calls from Poland, month after month, year after year, ambulance, hospital, home, convalescence... I have not written any poems in Poland, any about Her death. I'm still in denial. But I wrote this, when they were shot, on the plane back to L.A., returning after 10 days sitting in the hospital, by their bedside in Warsaw:

The Polish Easter

The bullet pierces the lung,
blood spills in darkness:
shortness of breath,
mouth tied with tape
agony in the basement
cold cement floor

How does one live after that?

Does one live?
Without the stomach,
kidneys, intestines and spleen?
Plastic pipes carry out
all kinds of liquid.

The Polish Easter
is a celebration of
overeating. Food is life.

Would Dad ever eat again?
Would Mom ever breathe without gasping?

Honor your mother and father.

I do.

They did not.

(c) 2000 by Maja Trochimczyk

Waiting for You, in Silence  - Photo (c) 2013 by Maja Trochimczyk
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Now, both of my parents are gone to the All Souls world.  Where is it? I do not know. What is it? I cannot imagine. It exists, I'm quite certain, as I often feel their presence with me. They both look over my shoulder as I write this, making sure I'm being a good girl. How? Certainly not like that overzealous Guardian Angel in a short story by Slawomir Mrozek; so eager to take care of his charge, a very active boy, he kept hitting and slapping and punishing the youngster for his every move. Unwittingly, the angel caused an adverse reaction. The boy, unable to run out and play with kids without being slapped by his Angel, instead got a chemistry kit, made a bomb, blew up his house, and ran away, followed by the Guardian Angel, limping...
Funeral Portraits in Wilanow Museum, Photo by Maja Trochimczyk
Funeral portraits (taken from coffins), 17th century Polish nobles and noblewomen.
Wilanow Art Gallery, Poland.

All Saints, then. Saints in Heaven. The realm of pure, white satin robes, gold halos, harps hanging on willow branches. Endless boredom. According to Mark Twain, at least. I have not been there yet, only peeked inside a couple of times. Looked and forgot what I saw.  We are not saints. Not yet.

Green shone the wings
of the dove - the Psalm says
with erudite certainty
that I don’t share
touched - as I am -
by an angel
of forgetfulness
and inattention.

Green shone the wings - Photo (c) 2012 by Maja Trochimczyk


Photos (C) 2011-2013 by Maja Trochimczyk
Poetry (c) 1997-2013 by Maja Trochimczyk 


  1. Soulful content, wonderful photography. My sympathy on the death of your mother -- that's a huge thing for the daughter, as I know from my own experience and that of friends.

    I too hate/despise the American Halloween. So trashy.

  2. Maja, God gave you many gifts. Thank you for sharing this beautiful site, your lovely photography, and unforgettable poetry.

  3. Mina Kirby's email comment: "Your words touched my heart. I think of my own parents, gone now too, and also feel them here with me. I love the idea of lighting candles in the cemeteries. Wish they did it here. Thanks for the thoughtful words and lovely photos.

    Hugs, Mina."