All Hallows

Softly cursing in the graveyard on 4th
Behind the church, an old man picks up detritus,
The Halloween revelers vanished
Like the years, overnight. He harvests more
Than sticks, cupped leaves that creep along the brick walk
Like hands, but wrappers, cans. Let screaming teens
Have their carefree terror. With luck, ignorance
Will last longer than they want, the truth
Not haunt them with its frisson, its sudden touch
Like a breeze with teeth on the skin, the body
Seasonal, a pagan reference,
A secretly held belief. New superstitions fail
To quell the old, the gut certain of the gut,
This the one time and place, the horror
That there are no shadows, no spirits,
That one’s own acts will in the end explain
So much sorrow, each day the mystic passage
Between worlds, breath the marvelous gift
And breadth of what is sacred. He’s clearing
Leaves now off one particular stone.
Children know. They just pretend they don’t
Like peasants in the druid days of old
Samhain, burning all at the field’s edge.
Each day leaves us bereft and yet, unlike
The scattering trees, we hold on. There are
No ghosts. The dead can’t return. They never left.

                                                          —David Moolten

  1. David, what a poignant melancholic seasonal piece. I particularly appreciate this observation:

    the horror
    That there are no shadows, no spirits,
    That one’s own acts will in the end explain
    So much sorrow

    Beautiful turning of the themes of horror back toward the reality they obfuscate. Very nicely accomplished.

    • davidmoolten said:


      Thanks for your generous take on “All Hallows.” Halloween for me has always been more than just a children and candy holiday. The shortening, cooling, colorful days are both melancholic and inspiring.

      Best, David

  2. David, my family still worships Féile Moingfhinne on Samhain. We just cannot seem to get the Scot/Irish our of our system. I have always found life in cemeteries. Your last words: There are no ghosts. The dead can’t return. They never left. There is that and a melancholy comfort in your poem.

    • davidmoolten said:

      Hi Donald,

      Thanks for your as always enthusiastic and colorful commentary. Halloween has always been one of my favorite holidays, though there is a wistful part to it, after all the candy and hijinks, with the first nip of cold and the realization of another year gone.

      Best, David

  3. Pingback: Via Negativa

    • davidmoolten said:


      Thanks for quoting from this on your excellent site.


  4. poetryaboutart said:

    This poem is all the more powerful for being published here days before Halloween takes place — its post-Halloween sobriety renders trivial even the anticipation of this weekend’s revelry. The man cleaning up reminds me of the somebodies who must clean up after war in Wislawa Szymborska’s poem. I imagine this man as a family relative of the person buried under the “particular stone” (or perhaps he’s a church staff member). Brilliant to open this poem with a curse. I see you use the word “detritus” as in your blog title. This poem has so much to admire — so many infolding images and concepts. Your profound poems always reward multiple readings, David.
    –Therese L. Broderick

    • davidmoolten said:


      Thanks for your kind and as always thorough take on my poem. Halloween has always struck me as one of those holidays where the sediment of history is very apparent, the ontogeny of the holiday through various periods, superstitions and practices, despite most people being fairly oblivious (my children know the M&Ms are what really matter).

      Best, David

  5. Love the turn at the end.

    Halloween is one of the most important holidays to me, and it’s apparently a pretty big deal here in my new home in Belfast. The drinking began last night…

    • davidmoolten said:

      Thank you Elizabeth.


  6. This was beautifully mysterious, and the ending was excellent.

  7. wayne said:

    great ending David…howerver “picks up detritus in the graveyard” got me going mysteriously. thanks for sharing agiain.

    • davidmoolten said:

      Thank you Wayne for your kind remarks.


  8. Linda said:

    I love the way your poem travels back and forth between (A) day to day perceptions and activities, then moves off to (B) a more spiritual “truth” that exists within the (A) place. It is reached by a mystic passage. “Children know. They just pretend they don’t.” At the beginning it is as if the caretaker is trying to sweep it all away. In the end, nothing is burned, swept away or departed. “They never left”. It is brilliantly woven into the truth of ancient knowledge. Thank you for sharing.

    • davidmoolten said:


      Thanks for your kind and thoughtful take on my poem. Halloween is one of those holidays that leaves me happy (for all the fun), and sad (cold and waning light, another year gone).


  9. rallentanda said:

    ‘With luck ignorance will last longer than they want’..this jumped out at me
    I’d just been saying how important it is to hang on to carefree innocence for as long as possible.Ultimately ‘each day will leave us bereft ‘and then the decision ‘to hold on’ or not….but that is for the end time…and I’m probably way off track here …raving on like a looney!Oops

    • davidmoolten said:


      Thanks for your kind comments. I’ve always found Halloween to be a quirky holiday with all the merriment, kind of like the old cliche, ‘whistling past a graveyard.’ Adolescents seem to be so oblivious to reality, and thus happy, even with the strangest things.


  10. Irene said:

    David your poem moves mysteriously between two worlds. Carnival, Halloween and death are all mixed up in a stew this week.

    • davidmoolten said:

      Hi Irene,

      Thank you.


  11. Jeeves said:

    Dead cant return:) Thats lot said. Lovely poem

    • davidmoolten said:


      Thanks for your kind comments about my poem.


  12. So profound…yes, there is much to fear in life if we allow it….
    the ending, “the dead can’t return, they never left” was perfect and will stay with me.

    • davidmoolten said:

      Hi Cynthia,

      Thanks as always for your generous feedback.


  13. My God, I love this. Such a descriptive picture you paint of the entire scene, the old man’s actions, interweaving his thoughts. And I love the last line: “No ghosts. The dead can’t return. They never left.”


    • davidmoolten said:


      Thanks for your kind comments. I’ve always found Halloween to be a quirky holiday with all the merriment, kind of like the old cliche, ‘whistling past a graveyard.’


  14. A meditation that doesn’t lack for good, creepy images: cupped leaves…like hands, like a breeze with teeth on the skin. We do make things to pretend to be afraid of so as not to look to closely at our fears.

    • davidmoolten said:

      Hi Barbara,

      Thanks for reading “All Hallows” and for your kind comments.


      , , ,

  15. I like the was this gets beyond the “carefree terror” that the holiday can often be.

    • davidmoolten said:

      Hi Tamra,

      Thank you for kind feedback.

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